Susan Ford Bales returns to Vail with Starting Hearts message
VAIL — Gerald R. Ford and his wife Betty left a vivid public service history in the Vail Valley and now their daughter, Susan Ford Bales, is building on their legacy by sharing a story close to her own heart.
Actually, it is a story about her own heart and Bales will tell it during a special Vail event planned for Friday, Feb. 1.
Back in 2010, at age 53, Bales suffered a sudden cardiac arrest.
“I went into what they call defib when I was working out in a gym,” said Bales.
Luckily the gym was attached to a hospital. Doctors regularly exercised at the site, and a surgeon was able to shock her back to life using an automated external defibrillator.
In the aftermath of the episode, Bales learned that she had a severe blockage in one of her arteries.
“I am now the proud owner of a stint and pacemaker,” Bales said.
She has become a passionate advocate for improving heart health and widespread access to the type of device that saved her life — which is why she is returning to Vail next month to promote the efforts of Starting Hearts.
Starting Hearts is a nonprofit based in Avon. Its mission is to save the lives of sudden cardiac arrest victims through free CPR and defibrillator education, as well as widespread distribution of lifesaving defibrillators everywhere in public.
Since its inception in 2010, Starting Hearts has educated more than 18,000 citizens in lifesaving and leadership skills. It has also increased the number of defibrillators in Eagle County to more than 400, or one for every 130 citizens — one of the highest per capita rates in the nation.
Starting Hearts will present an Evening with Susan Ford Bales on Friday, Feb. 1 at the Gore Range Room of the Vail Golf Club.
“Most of my talk will be telling my story. I think we can all learn from others’ stories,” said Bales. “Starting Hearts is a wonderful organization and the advantage of people knowing what to do when something happens is so important. If it had happened to me at home, I wouldn’t be giving this speech because there wouldn’t have been anyone there to resuscitate me.”
Bales learned a great deal from her heart episode. During her recovery, she learned that there was actually a family history of heart disease.
“I didn’t know it at the time,” Bales said.
Reflecting on the event also made her realize she hadn’t picked up on a number of heart disease warning signs. She noted that she wasn’t feeling well the morning she went to the gym.
“I had read all the things about having jaw pain or arm pain and basically ignored it,” Bales said. “My biggest message to people is: don’t ignore the signals. You hear all these stories, and you have to actually listen to them and register it.”
Lynn Blake, founder of Starting Hearts, is also a sudden cardiac arrest survivor. She’s honored to have Bales back to share her story and embrace the mission of her organization.
“Susan’s story is truly inspirational,” Blake said, “and we are so pleased that she would make a triumphant return to Vail to share with us and support our mission to save the lives of sudden cardiac arrest victims.”
Back in Vail
While the Ford family no longer owns Jerry and Betty’s Beaver Creek home, Bales noted she has many fond memories of the community.
“I do come back to spend a week or so in the summer,” Bales said. “It is lovely to walk around and see my parents’ names.”
“The Ford family is revered here with such an amazing legacy, including the Betty Ford Alpine Gardens and the Gerald R. Ford Amphitheatre,” said Alan Himelfarb, Executive Director of Starting Hearts. “Susan has so many deep friendships in the Vail Valley and we have heard from many who anticipate her return.”