Recently, we sat down with Pamela “Pam” Willinger Stallings ’82, and her daughter Samantha Stallings ’11, to learn more about their love of SHA and their passion for helping those in need. Truly “all heart,” the Stallings women are an inspiring example of defying health odds and a willingness to take life by the Valkyrie horns and give back in countless ways to those in need.
Attending SHA was not a natural choice for Pam in 1978. While many of her friends were enrolling in local high schools, only a handful were going to SHA. Pam says her beloved father gave her the gift of a Sacred Heart education. “SHA chose me,” she says. An avid athlete playing volleyball, basketball, field hockey and softball, Pam found her niche at SHA through her passion for competition, sports and friendship and she still enjoys attending SHA athletic events. Pam currently works with her husband in Franchise Development and Marketing and ownership of the local Salsarita’s Fresh Mexican Grill, and in addition to her love and support of SHA, also supports many local and national organizations and nonprofits.
Both Pam and Samantha credit SHA for giving them the skills and tools to succeed in life, and Pam notes “education will always be the power within us to drive and become better.” The Ursuline Core values of community, reverence, service and leadership are present in their everyday lives, and they live by example, as St. Angela Merici calls each of us to do.
At just 27 years old, Samantha Stallings is as active, fun and smart as any millennial you’ll find. Returning to campus as an employee at Sacred Heart Preschool (SHP) in 2019, Samantha spends her days shaping and nurturing our youngest learners, and her afternoons coaching swim lessons, advocating for rare diseases, writing and conducting media relations for various organizations, editing a local Sports and Woman’s Network site and fun-raising (as she describes) money for a variety of causes.
Though born six weeks premature and with heart defects, you’d never know that Samantha has battled health issues most of her life. But she has been under the care of the same physician since she was eight years old, and has been through 15 surgeries, at various hospitals, including one to correct a kink in her brainstem caused by Chiari malformation in which brain tissue extends into your spinal canal.
Following a year of home-schooling due to her medical state, Samantha enrolled at SHA as a freshman, in the fall of 2007. Aside from a few teachers, no one was aware of her health history. Samantha had swum since she was four and joined the SHA swim team led by current coach, Jim Luebbe. Coach Luebbe was a champion of her abilities and continues to be a great friend to Samantha. When doctors forbid her from diving into the pool sophomore year because of spinal stability issues her coaches and the Kentucky High School Athletic Association (KHSAA) accommodated her desire to continue swimming. Determined, Samantha worked hard to end her senior year with times she could be proud of. Perseverance, at its best.
SHA Athletic Director, Donna Moir ’79, nominated Samantha for the first All-State Resilient Team hosted by Tom Leach of the Leach Report. Samantha also received Academic All-State Awards consecutive years and was the recipient of the Bunny Daugherty Unsung Hero Award. Samantha graduated from Samford University, where she received numerous honors while obtaining her degree in journalism and mass communication.
She was more recently diagnosed with Loeys-Dietz syndrome (LDS), a rare disease which affects the cardiovascular, musculoskeletal, skin and gastrointestinal systems and with homocystinuria, an inherited disorder that prevents the body from properly processing certain building blocks of proteins. She now sees a metabolic dietician locally and is fortunate that her entire medical team works together to see that Samantha has the most comprehensive care available to her.
With the difficult experience looking to other cities and hospitals to find the best care for Samantha, and with the core value of service held dear, the Stallings family have become tireless fundraisers and advocates of various organizations that assist families in similar situations.
One local organization, a summer camp she began attending when she was 10 years old means a great deal to Samantha. Camp Brave Hearts was created in 1998 by local cardiologists to give kids with congenital heart disease a safe, fun summer camp to attend at no cost. Now run through the Center for Courageous Kids, Camp Brave Hearts has operated over 20 years, and Samantha has volunteered many hours to make it a special experience for campers.
Through fundraisers with their swim communities, family and friends, and of course, Salsarita’s Fresh Mexican Grill, the Stallings raised over $10,000 to name a room in the Jennifer Lawrence Cardiac Intensive Care Unit (CICU) at Norton Children’s Hospital in honor of Samantha, her brother and the founders of Camp Brave Hearts. They chose the laundry room, because they are so personally familiar with the basic need for clean clothes during long hospital stays.
In addition to the CICU at Norton Children’s and Camp Brave Hearts/Center for Courageous Kids, Samantha gives her time to the American Heart Association, YARR (Young Adult Representatives of the Rare Disease Legislative Advocates), and the Make A Wish Foundation, lobbies for equity in healthcare for people with rare diseases, and was a Queen of Hearts nominee for the American Heart Association’s 2020 Heart Ball. She assists the Executive and Strategic Communications teams at EveryLife Foundation and HCU-America to encourage others to share their stories and become the change agents for tomorrow.
This dynamic mother-daughter-alumnae duo don’t share their time, talent and treasure for the recognition, they help others because it’s the right thing to do. We are grateful for their commitment to the health and wellbeing of all, and for representing Sacred Heart Academy in such a meaningful way. #ForeverValkyries! #AllHeart!