One local woman’s loss is every woman’s gain

La Crosse woman impacted by heart disease exposes the 'silent killer'

Kelly Poppele is a runner. She is taking steps towards staying fit and active.

“I really like the personal time it gives me,” said Poppele.

She started running about two-and-a-half years ago.

“I decided after I graduated college that I would attempt to run a marathon,” said Poppele.

Her inspiration was her mother Mary.

“She was young, active,” said Poppele. “She watched her diet. She was healthy. All these things… and the next day your life changes completely.”

Ten years ago, when Kelly was just 14…

“There was no warning signs,” said Poppele.

Kelly’s family received an unexpected call.

“She was out training one morning with some family and friends, and next thing you know she collapsed,” said Poppele.

This, otherwise healthy, 44-year old woman was training for her sixth marathon.

“It wasn’t until we got to the hospital that we really realized what had happened,” said Poppele. “They told us she suffered a massive heart attack. Her main artery was clogged with a cholesterol deposit.”

“What happened to her mother was absolutely tragic,” said Heather Whitney, a nurse practitioner in the cardiology department at Mayo Clinic Health System.

“It’s one of our top killers of women,” said Whitney.

She says, like Mary Poppele,  10-12% of women under the age of 45 who die from sudden cardiac arrest have no symptoms.

“Heart disease is often termed the silent killer for that exact reason,” said Whitney.

With no family history of the disease, Mary’s death came as a shock.

“The symptoms can come so sudden that there aren’t any symptoms,” said Whitney. “And that’s the scary part.”

The nurse practitioner says getting good preventative care and paying attention to your body is key in the fight against heart disease.

“If there is anything that they are suspicious of; if they feel a certain type of a way and it’s not their normal, I think it’s definitely worth bring up to your healthcare provider,” said Whitney.

“Every time I go to the doctor, I make sure to mention it to them,” said Poppele, “and make sure they’re on the lookout for any signs it could happen ‘cause you never know.”

Unfortunately, Kelly understands the reality behind those words.

“It has completely changed the way I live my life,” said Poppele. “I realize that none of us are guaranteed our tomorrow.”

But in her loss… she gained a passion.

“She was supposed to run a marathon a month after her heart attack,” said Poppele. “And so I actually took her place and walked in her memory.

“Now, two-and-a-half years later, I just completed my fifth one, said Poppele.

“For me personally, it’s more than just accomplishing a marathon. It’s doing something my mom loved.”

Kelly’s story will be featured as part of the Go Red For Women Luncheon on Wednesday, June 18 from 10:30  a.m. – 1 p.m. at the Cargill Room at the Waterfront Restaurant. For more informaiton, visit