heart of the matter

At 15 years old, Bellevue Club member Marie Morkos is on a mission to inform her peers about matters of the heart—and raise money for the American Heart Association in the process. This year, she was selected for an exclusive program that gives her a powerful voice, which she is using to its full potential.

Reflections magazine: You were one of four teens in the state of Washington nominated for the American Heart Association (AHA) Teen of Impact program. How did that come about?

Marie Morkos: I’m part of the National Charity League. It’s a mother-daughter volunteer organization. They partner with a lot of nonprofits, and we volunteer and do philanthropy. At our chapter meeting in summer 2023, the AHA came and gave a talk about the Teen of Impact program. I was interested and submitted my email. A representative interviewed me and a couple of other people, and then she picked four of us.

RM: What were the qualifications?

MM: I had to be interested in heart health and medicine. We couldn’t just do it for college credit.

RM: So you have an interest in medicine?

MM: Yeah, I want to be a doctor when I
am older.

RM: Has heart disease directly affected you or your family?

MM: Yes, heart disease has affected me in a lot of ways. My grandma died when I was nine months old, so I don’t even remember her. She died of a heart attack in her sleep. And then my great uncle on the other side of the family. He was in Hawaii, and he had a heart attack in the pool.

RM: So you’re doing this with family in mind?

MM: Yeah, I definitely think about them a lot during this process.

RM: Are you specifically interested in cardiology as a field of medicine?

MM: I’m not sure—it’s still super early, but cardiology is definitely something interesting to me.

RM: Tell me about the program. What were your hopes?

MM: The campaign was a nine-week blind, fundraising event. We set goals in January, and then the AHA gave us a website. People donated through that.

RM: What was your goal?

MM: $30,000

RM: What else did you do with the AHA?

MM: We also spoke at heart health events, and we got to attend the Go Red for Women event, which was March 7. It was an auction, and they raised $1 million dollars. I was like, Oh, wow.
I saw what was possible with the AHA. It was a very inspirational night.

RM: Anything else?

MM: I went to Olympia with the AHA to lobby. We lobbied a bill for healthier meals in public schools for kindergarten through 12th grade. There’s one right now that’s for lower school only—the AHA did that last year. This year, they were advocating for kindergarten through 12th grade. And there was another one that was to raise the age for buying a vape/tobacco products.

RM: Do you see a lot of vaping in your peer group? What’s your personal experience?

MM: There are people vaping around me, and I don’t think they understand exactly what is in there. They think it’s healthier, but they don’t know how much nicotine is in there. It’s a huge problem. When I see kids vaping, I’m like, This is just not going to end up well.

RM: What do your peers think about what you do?

MM: When I got back to school [after lobbying], they were like, Wow, Marie, I didn’t know you were doing this. And when I posted on social media, people who I haven’t talked to in a while were like, Wow, Marie, this is so impressive.

RM: That must make you feel good, right?

MM: Yeah, I think I’m actually making an impact, which is something a lot of teens don’t think they can do. It really opened my eyes to how much talking to your peers can have an impact. It feels like we only listen to adults and only learn from adults. Seeing that we can learn from each other was an amazing thing.

RM: Do you have any advice for your peers who also want to get involved in this type of work?

MM: Don’t be afraid to reach out. Adults want to see you succeed.

RM: Are there any other topics related to heart health that you’re interested in?

MM: One of the campaign challenges is to tell 20 people you’re grateful for them. Because just having gratitude will lower your heart rate and make you happier. And if you’re happier, you’re less stressed, and stress isn’t good for your heart.

RM: And I heard you also talk about sleep and exercise in correlation with heart health, correct?

MM: Sleep is so important. If you don’t get good sleep, you’re stressing your heart more and your heart has to beat faster. Yeah, that’s just not good. And with exercise, it’s so important for your heart health. I swim on the Bellevue Club Swim Team and work out with a personal trainer.

RM: Anything else about your journey so far?

MM: Yeah, I was messaging the King County Medical Society. I told them about what I was doing, and the CEO, Nancy Belcher, responded and said, This is so amazing, you struck a nerve. The AHA gave me a full-ride scholarship to get my master’s. I was so surprised, I didn’t know the AHA affected so many people. I was glad to be a part of something so big.   



After this interview was completed, Marie received word from the AHA that she placed third out of 391 nationwide participants in the Teen of Impact program. Her efforts raised over $54,185, and she is being recognized as a 2024 National Teen Changemaker by the AHA.

To support the American Heart Association and their mission, please consider making a donation by visiting www.heart.org.

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