It is in the deepest, darkest moments of one’s life that you find the true character of a soul. Our response to the unthinkable has the power to crush our spirit or ignite a new purpose greater than we could have ever imagined through such a tragic event. The story of Susan Canning is one of courage, generosity and inspiration with an unrelenting desire to ensure that no one has to go through the devastating loss that she and her family have had to endure. What Susan knows today, has the power to impact the course of many lives and generations beyond as she forges through copious obstacles to inspire new laws, equip families and communities, and find some comfort in knowing that Kevin’s life lives on to make a difference in the lives of others.
On June 11, 2011 at age 19, Kevin’s heart stopped beating. Known by most as Kev, he was an athlete to his core, excelling at hockey, baseball, lacrosse, golf and rugby, and by all appearances was a healthy, thriving young man living life to its fullest and captivating people with his big heart. Tragically, it was his big heart that held a secret. Undiagnosed and with no symptoms, Kevin suffered a sudden cardiac arrest from Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy—an abnormally large heart muscle.
It is impossible to comprehend the pain of enduring such an unfathomable loss, but it is the strength in Susan’s grief that is quite remarkable. Just a year after the passing of Kev, Susan established a non-profit organization called the Kev Foundation, that recognizes and promotes the awareness of sudden cardiac arrest in young adults. Additionally, it strives to teach communities, with an emphasis on children, the skills needed for CPR and AED. “We have a committee that goes out into the community, schools, and other non-profit organizations where children are involved to spread that awareness. This includes free heart screenings for students to see if we can find any undiagnosed underlying heart conditions.” Just as in Kevin’s case, unless diagnosed, you never know if your child may have a heart condition, “and that is what we are all about, trying to bring that awareness and have a voice.”
As a mother who has gone through the unthinkable, Susan is driven by the significance of a life—if she can save even one parent from the pain of losing a child, “it is all worth it.” As the founder, director, and spokesperson of the Kev Foundation, Susan wears many hats; but first and foremost, she is Kevin’s mom. Locally, Susan focuses her efforts on helping the state of Massachusetts through free screenings, trainings, and new preventative laws. On a national level, she provides statistics to the US voice of sudden cardiac arrest Parent Heartwatch, with numbers on heart screenings and abnormal readings the Kev Foundation compiles annually. This means Susan and her foundation can reach as many people in her community as possible, while also contributing to an organization which can make an impact on a national scale.
Always focusing on helping others, Susan’s full-time job at Novo Nordisk is also particularly patient-focused. As a Health System Specialist, Susan’s role encompasses the all-inclusive health system from the top-down. This begins at C-suite to providers, through to care managers, care nurses and so on, touching many different aspects of patient care. “As a health systems representative, I don’t have direct contact with patients, but I do have communication with providers who know how our products change patient’s lives. And when I talk to compassionate providers that see the big picture, not just a patient, but a whole person sitting in front of them with their families by their sides, and they go that extra mile to help, how can I not learn from that? Over the years, I have been deeply influenced by that compassion and willingness to give back, and in the end, isn’t that what life is all about?”
“At the end of the day, the focus is on the care that we bring through the community that we serve; we never lose sight that everything we do is for the patients.” It is with this in mind that Susan goes that extra mile each day, because, in her words “you never know how it could impact somebody’s life. I will never have the opportunity to meet the patient, but I will have an opportunity to make a difference for them.” In that way, Susan finds many similarities between those she influences with the Kev Foundation and what she does at Novo Nordisk. “I have always known that what we do at Novo Nordisk is truly impactful, and understanding and appreciating that responsibility, because I truly believe it is a responsibility, has transformed me and taught me the skills I needed when deciding to start a foundation in Kev’s honor.”
When talking about her colleagues, Susan describes their kindhearted nature and the wonderful things that they do. “My colleagues over the last 7 years have been nothing but supportive and most people that know me, understands that I have this other life that is led by my passion. Some of them have even come out to volunteer their time and help me with different events or participated in rally days at the state house close to a bill approval. Novo Nordisk has allowed my colleagues to take time out of the field to better their community, so in that respect, without even knowing it, Novo Nordisk has supported me, this cause, and the Massachusetts community.”
“I grew up with the philosophy that you need to give back to your community and be thankful for all that you have, not focus on what you don’t have. I don’t have my son, but I can think about the incredible, kind-hearted people I have had the opportunity to get to know, that I would have never met if Kev hadn’t passed. I look at that as a gift that he continues to give me.” Finding the beauty in tragedy, Susan finds perseverance from the lives she continues to touch. “When you are about to have a pity party, you find someone else that has a situation just as horrible, if not worse, and you think, ‘You know what, I am really lucky.’ Yes, this event in my life was horrid and if I could change it, I would. I would give anything to go back to July 10th when Kev was still alive, but I can’t. I can however, appreciate the energy and support people have and continue to give me, and I can work on becoming a better person. Going through something like this, you look at life differently. The little things no longer define you.”
It takes just one toss of a stone to disrupt the surface of a still pond. With the plunging of the stone, its force causes chaos, and for that moment, the serenity felt in the silence of the surface feels lost. But when that moment passes, and the surface rhythmically ripples, those ripples have the ability to reach things far beyond the stone’s original entry point, and it is only then that the true beauty of the ripple can be seen. Since Kevin’s passing, his life continues to impact people in ways that Susan could have never imagined or understood. His story began a ripple that since the inception of the Kev Foundation has saved lives that would have otherwise been lost.
Kevin was an outstanding individual with an infectious smile and a humor for life. He had a big heart for his family, friends, and teammates that will never be forgotten by anyone who had the privilege of sharing a piece of their life with him. Kevin was at the starting point of his adult life and his early passing forever changed Susan’s purpose. Today she carries the torch for Kevin, keeping his spirit alive by leaving a legacy that benefits the countless lives of others. “If we save one child, it’s absolutely well worth it, because that’s somebody’s son, that’s somebody’s daughter, somebody’s grandchild…My son has set me on a new journey. Where this journey takes us, I’m not sure. I just hope we touch a lot of folks in a very positive manner.”
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