High school senior uses heartbreak to heal local hearts for senior project

Evans High School senior Melissa Steves is turning tragedy into tribute. (WRDW-TV)

Evans High School senior Melissa Steves is turning tragedy into tribute. (WRDW-TV)

News 12 at 6 o'clock / Thursday, April 4, 2013

EVANS, Ga. (WRDW) -- A local high school senior was shocked when she woke up one morning to find her mother dead from a sudden heart attack.

A year and a half later, Evans High School senior Melissa Steves is turning tragedy into tribute, using her broken heart to help heal other hearts right here in our community.

"No other families should have to go through what we did," Steves said.

Words from a brave high school senior as she remembered a painful morning.

"In 2011 we lost my mom unexpectedly to a heart attack and found out that it was coronary artery disease that she had no idea she had," Steves said.

That's not the end of the story. Steves decided to use her experience as the inspiration behind her senior project. Her mother was the driving force.

"My family has always been into cars. My dad has always had drag cars and stuff, so we decided we were going to have a car show," she said.

It wasn't just a car show, it was a fundraiser, and all the money would go to University Hospital's Heart and Vascular Institute in honor of her mother.

"Even though my mom's not here, we can still do things to help people," Steves said.

"She's going to help us touch more hearts not only through her contribution, but with the awareness she's helping to raise," said University Hospital's VP of Community Affairs and Human Resources Laurie Ott.

Steves raised $628 for the institute to help combat the very disease that took her mom.

"Losing a parent to heart disease, it doesn't give you the chance to say goodbye, and it doesn't give you a chance to get your affairs in order, and it also means that parents aren't there to see their kids get married, to walk daughters down the aisle," said Ott, a victim of a parent fallen from heart disease herself.

As the leading killer in the U.S., heart disease accounts for more than 25 percent of total deaths. It's also the country's number one killer of women.

"This is a huge issue for our community. It means there's a great opportunity for us to educate people on what they can do to stay heart healthy. Hopefully to prevent heart attacks and keep folks from needlessly dying of this number one killer," Ott said.

"I really hope it inspires them to keep striving for donations to help other people that are in situations like ours," Steves said.

One generous heart is helping keep others' pumping strong.

Steves says she plans on making the car show an annual event, each year giving the donations to the Heart and Vascular Institute in honor of her mom.

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