Teen teaches kids how to take care of their tickers
By Jessica Laskey
At age 6, Savanna Karmue decided to become a cardiologist.
A visit to her Sunday school teacher, recovering from heart surgery, inspired the career path. When she was 8, Karmue founded Happy Heart Advice, a nonprofit to teach young people about heart health.
Today, at the advanced age of 16, the goal is closer than ever, encouraged by Karume’s nonstop research into the mechanics of cardiology and her management of Happy Heart, where she serves as CEO.
“When I found out that 2,000 people die every day because of cardiovascular disease—it’s the leading cause of death in the U.S.—I was just heartbroken,” says Karmue, a junior at Sacramento Country Day School. “So my parents said, ‘What are you going to do about it?’ That made me realize I didn’t have to wait to start helping people. I could do it now.”
Karmue’s research led her to conclude that lack of education was the primary reason people didn’t take good care of themselves. “Prevention is way better and more effective than a cure,” she says.
“Prevention starts with youth. If people learn in the early stages, the information grows up with them. But the available resources were not kid-friendly, so I decided to write from a kid’s perspective.”
At age 9, Karmue wrote a book, “Happy Heart Advices, Vol. 1,” and created supportive material she takes to schools in Roseville, Sacramento and Elk Grove to give young people the tools they need to make healthy choices. The program is projected to reach 5,887 elementary schools in California by the end of 2023.
In 2017, Happy Heart added a fitness program to fight childhood obesity, one of the “major roots” of cardiovascular disease. Karmue developed a one- to two-week program geared toward elementary students that uses workbooks, hands-on activities and exercise to give kids a well-rounded education in heart health.
“Fun activities help kids retain what they were taught,” the Tennessee native and Arden-Arcade resident says. “We teach them how to read nutrition labels and then we put a bunch of snacks out on a table. We ask them to read the labels to understand if the snacks are truly healthy or not. Even if they look healthy, they might not be.”
As if she wasn’t busy enough, Karmue launched a podcast, “Mental Mondays with Savanna,” to connect with peers on another favorite subject: mental health.
“I talk about all kinds of things,” she says. “Being the best version of oneself, the power of habits, the fact that you don’t have to have it all figured out yet, that circumstances don’t define you. I bring in research and my own experiences to connect to listeners and let them know they’re not alone.”
When a teacher told Karmue that the Sacramento County Behavioral Health Youth Advisory Board was looking for members, Karmue eagerly applied. Soon she was elected board chair. Now she plans and hosts bimonthly meetings, consults with the county health department and adult allies, does community outreach such as a wellness survey and listening sessions with high schoolers, and collaborates with fellow board members.
“This is the first time Sacramento has had a board like this for youth, and it’s really, really cool,” she says.
Looking forward, Karmue plans to study anatomy, physiology and AP microeconomics during her senior year to prepare for medical school. She loves to hang out with friends, read, listen to K-pop and watch anime. But most of all, she loves to help young people feel empowered.
“I really like encouraging people, especially kids, and showing them that you don’t have to wait to be a specific age to pursue your dreams,” Karmue says. “You can start now.”