Johanna Aiken is the 2013 recipient of The Preeclampsia Foundation's annual Hope Award for Volunteer of the Year. This prestigious award will be presented to Aiken at its annual benefit dinner, Saving Grace - A Night of Hope, on Friday, October 18, 2013 in Iowa City. The award recognizes an individual who epitomizes the true spirit of volunteerism and has made significant contributions to the Foundation in the past year.
"Johanna has been an instrumental member of our volunteer leadership, helping to build the presence of our signature public awareness event, The Promise Walk for Preeclampsia™," said Executive Director Eleni Tsigas. "For the past three years, she dedicated herself as the Central Regional Coach and helped build numerous provider and patient education alliances in her local Chicago community. Johanna has been a tireless advocate not only for those who have been affected by preeclampsia, but for those who aren't here to speak for themselves."
This week, we asked Johanna about her experiences with preeclampsia and The Preeclampsia Foundation.
What was your experience with preeclampsia?
I am a HELLP Syndrome Survivor. I was diagnosed at 39 weeks while in active labor by the nurse admitting me. I had heard of Preeclampisa before and associated it with high blood pressure and bed rest, but had never hear of HELLP Syndrome. My symptoms came on in a matter of days, but I was unaware that they were anything other than normal symptoms of pregnancy. Thankfully, it was diagnosed early and managed successfully, so my daughter and I both made full recoveries.
Why do you volunteer for the Preeclampsia Foundation?
To spread awareness of the signs and symptoms to other pregnant women and women who become pregnant. I also volunteer to help educate health care providers about the Preeclampsia Foundation's existence and the many resources we offer to them, as well as their patients. In the four years I have been volunteering, I am still baffled by how many health care providers do not proactively talk about Preeclampsia, HELLP Syndrome and other hypertensive disorders to their patients, as well as how many providers have never heard about the Foundation as a resource.
What does it mean to you to be awarded the 2013 Hope Award for Volunteer of the Year?
It is a tremendous honor. While I am giving my personal time volunteering to raise awareness for providers and patients, I too feel that I have been given a gift that I must pass forward to others. My daughter and I both survived and are healthy. Many people's stories don't have such happy endings.
What has been your most gratifying moment as a Foundation volunteer?
My co-worker was pregnant and knows I am involved in the Foundation. I had mentioned the signs and symptoms to look out for and in her last month of pregnancy began having some of them. As a result, she contacted her doctor and was carefully monitored, then induced two weeks early when her blood pressure got too high. The most gratifying thing about being a volunteer is knowing that I am directly helping others prevent infant and mother mortality by contacting their provider as soon as signs and symptoms appear.
What are your continuing goals for your work with the Foundation in the near future?
I love being involved in the Chicago Promise Walk, and helping the walk coordinators throughout the Central/Midwest region as a regional coach. I'm able to provide guidance and advice on how to plan and carry out their own walks, spreading awareness as well as raising money that goes towards patient and provider education and research grants to study the causes of Preeclampsia, HELLP Syndrome and other Hypertensive disorders.
Thank you, Johanna Aiken, and our many other tireless volunteers!