Meet a true survivor 

May 07

By Deborah Laverty -, (219) 762-1397, ext. 2223 | Posted: Friday, May 7, 2010

MERRILLVILLE | Donna Hartley's story is one of survival.

Hartley shared that story Thursday as keynote speaker at the American Heart Association's Go Red for Women luncheon held at the Radisson Star Plaza.

"As I take you on my journey, let it be your journey," Hartley said.

Hartley survived a fiery plane crash March 1, 1978; Stage III cancer, which she was diagnosed March 1, 2002; and open heart surgery March 1, 2006.

A former Miss Hawaii and TV actress, Hartley spoke about her life journey while adding humorous anecdotes.

She said the best advice she received, from a good friend and mentor, was, "There are no accidents. Everything happens for a reason."

Hartley also spoke about trying to adopt a baby girl as a single parent in her mid-40s. Hartley successfully adopted her daughter June 20, 1995, and was busy raising her when she was diagnosed with Stage III melanoma in 2002.

"I asked God, 'Please let me raise her and I won't complain when she becomes a teenager,'" Hartley said.

She told about her most recent health issue, which was discovered when she intuitively went for a physical. Her aortic valve was so narrow it had to be replaced during surgery or she most likely would have died.

"I'm so thankful to the American Heart Association. I wouldn't be alive today to raise my daughter," Hartley said.

She told audience members to stay healthy by exercising, eliminating negative talk, meditating, eating heart-healthful foods, laughing and checking in with a doctor on a regular basis.

"Don't give up on your dreams, but you have to have heart health. You have to be here. ... Love where you are today. You might not have a traditional life, but love it," Hartley said.

Heart disease is the No. 1 killer of women in the nation. Go Red for Women is the American Heart Association's campaign to save women's lives.

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