Heart Hero: Sydney, Cougar Valley
Sydney, a fifth-grader at Cougar Valley, was named an American Heart Association (AHA) ambassador for the 2023-24 school year, and her story has had an immense impact on the district.

Sydney is a stroke survivor. She experienced her stroke right before her fourth birthday. Because of her experience, Sydney applied and was nominated as an AHA national heart ambassador to share her story and increase awareness of the signs of a stroke, especially among young people. 

As a heart ambassador, Sydney works with the AHA's Kids Heart Challenge and American Heart Challenge. In her one-year commitment, she "gives youth a voice to encourage, advocate, and underscore the need to raise critical funding as they share the impact cardiovascular disease has had on their lives." 

You may have seen Sydney speaking at schools for Kids’ Heart Challenge assemblies across the district, and her headshot is on the AHA website and social media channels. 

"It's crazy how everyone knows me now," Sydney said. 

Her Story

Something wasn't right with Sydney. Her family noticed she had difficulty walking and was slurring her words. They suspected and worried that she was having a stroke. 

Their hunch ended up being correct. Doctors confirmed she was having a stroke and later revealed it was due to an atrial septal defect (ASD) – a hole in the wall of her heart's septum. 

Then came a long recovery process. Sydney's medical care team helped her relearn how to walk and talk again. 

Although her mother, Tylandra, says Sydney is regaining her fine motor skills to this day, she can participate in her favorite activities. At home, she loves to play her favorite game, Roblox, draw, and hike. Her favorite subjects in school are art and English language arts (ELA).

"Sydney is a resilient and brave girl," said Ms. Cathcart, Sydney's fifth-grade teacher. "She shows every day how much strength and courage she has. She does not let her past define her and get in the way of achieving her goals and aspirations." 

Two boys in foreground with projector screen in background, two kids putting up heart hands
Students at PineCrest Elementary's Kids' Heart Challenge assembly hold up their hands in the shape of a heart as Sydney's story is told to the audience. 

Her Impact

Sydney applied to be one of the AHA’s National Heart Ambassadors before the school year began. She was thrilled when the AHA contacted her and told her she was nominated, despite being shy and the public speaking obligations that come with the nomination.

She was selected out of 500 applicants around the country. 

"She liked the fact that she could share her story and help others become aware of the signs of a stroke," said Tylandra.

What's more, Sydney attended another district school when she applied. Her new school, Cougar Valley, embraced Sydney and the AHA’s programs. 

"Sydney is a humble, quiet hero with an amazing story to share," said Monday Galbreath, the principal at Cougar Valley. 

Her presence has profoundly impacted the AHA's fundraising efforts in Central Kitsap. 

CKSD elementary schools have raised $39,079 for the AHA's Kids Heart Challenge, with two schools still waiting to launch their fundraisers. Cougar Valley has contributed $5,787 alone. 

In the challenge, 232 CKSD students have learned hands-only CPR. 

"It makes me really proud,” Sydney said of her impact. 

Graphic from AHA
Heart Hero: Sydney, Cougar Valley
Posted on 05/22/2024
Sydney (left) and Cougar Valley principal Monday Galbreath. Galbreath promised to dress up as a dragon if Cougar Valley students raised a certain amount of money for the Kids' Heart Challenge.