When Kelsey was 25, her beloved dad, ‘Chrisso’ had a fatal cardiac event, leaving the close-knit family completely devastated. Now, the Melbourne paramedic and critical care nurse is on a mission to save as many lives as she can in her dad’s name. This is their story.
Kelsey Hibberd used to love watching her dad compete in triathlons as a little girl, cheering him on from the sidelines with her three siblings Jacqueline, Sean and Olivia and mum, Julie.
Chris, or ‘Chrisso’ as Kelsey affectionately called him, was always very fit, healthy and active.
“My dad was an incredible man,” the 28-year-old Melbourne paramedic and critical care nurse recalls. “Born in Bendigo, he was fiercely loyal, he was funny, and he was the greatest dad.
“He was at every milestone, every sporting event, every special moment. His family were his pride and joy. His everything.
“I honestly had
the most perfect childhood. My mum and dad created the most amazing
home and family and raised us to be so close. Married for 30 years, they were known as the ultimate team."
On March 4, 2021, the Hibberd family’s lives changed forever, when Chris suffered a fatal heart attack in their family home. He was 59.
“My mum, three siblings and I were left in absolute shock and completely devastated,” explains Kelsey. “While Chrisso had a very full life, it was cut cruelly short.”
Chris had type 1 diabetes and although he had heart surgery a few years earlier, all his heart check-ups were normal. He looked after his health, and maintained a healthy diet. Unfortunately, his type 1 diabetes contributed to the onset of vascular disease, leading to Chris requiring a stent in his lower limb to help heal a foot ulcer.
Months later, he had a cardiac event. And while paramedics arrived within minutes after he was found unresponsive, he was unable to be resuscitated.
“Losing him was a complete shock. Unfathomable. The most intense pain,” Kelsey admits.
“We are just grateful to have an amazing support network. We also have hundreds of hours of home videos to look back on. Dad captured everything he could. We now treasure these home videos more than anything.”
Kelsey had always dreamed of becoming a paramedic. As a little girl with severe asthma, she can distinctly remember many trips in the back of an ambulance. She started her nursing career in the emergency department before moving to the intensive care and trauma unit, then finally her dream came true – Kelsey became a paramedic for Ambulance Victoria.
“It was a bittersweet moment of success,” she admits. “I felt the highest of highs with a pinch of sadness that dad wasn’t there to see it. I did it for myself, but the flame grew even stronger when dad left us.
"Every victory in my life is all thanks to him and mum. And what a privilege it is to help people the way paramedics helped our family that day.”
As a result of her work, Kelsey has seen firsthand the impact cardiovascular disease (CVD) has on so many lives – not just her own.
“Working in critical care for several years I’ve seen the devastation CVD causes. And after losing dad, I wanted to make a difference,” she reveals. “We are certainly not the only family in these circumstances.
“After dad died, I felt a sense of injustice and that my role as a paramedic was arriving at patients when they were already impacted by heart disease. I wanted to have an effect earlier, on the other side, in the prevention and detection of CVD.”
Kelsey began doing research into organisations and charities involved in heart research to help her make the biggest impact possible, looking at their past and future projects, before settling on the Heart Research Institute (HRI).
“One Australian dies from cardiovascular disease every 18 minutes. It’s very probable that someone you know and love will one day suffer from it, too,” she notes.
“I realised that there is so much we still don’t know about CVD and it was hard for me to fathom that people go through this level of trauma and pain on a regular basis. It just feels wrong.
Kelsey’s quest is to raise as much money as possible to put towards HRI’s groundbreaking research to prevent, detect and treat CVD. Her fundraiser ‘Tri 4 Chrisso’ is a tribute to her dad, Chris Hibberd, with 100 per cent of money being donated to HRI.
“I’ve set myself the challenge of completing five triathlons over the next three months and have raised over $11,000 so far,” she exclaims. “Ultimately, I just want to avoid people losing their loved ones like we lost dad.”
“My mission is to keep his name alive and to say it proudly, so that he lives on through his family. My mission is to always display his core values of strength, resilience, loyalty, protection and unconditional love to everyone we meet,” she says.
"My dad was known as a gladiator, and I hope I can always show that same warrior spirit over the next few months.”
It all circles back to Kelsey’s upbringing and her drive to pursue a career in healthcare from a young age.
“I have always thought of myself as extremely lucky - for my childhood, my parents and my siblings. And I truly believe that when you’re given such blessings in life, you need to do something worthy with them.
“And for me, that is helping people who are in the middle of a health crisis.
“As we learnt on the day dad died, the impact you have as a healthcare provider is profound for patients and their family who are at their most vulnerable,” she adds.
“Even more importantly, the role we play during death is so pivotal to the family’s grieving process. I am extremely privileged to be granted passage into someone’s home during such incredibly vulnerable moments of their life.”
Kelsey also hopes to lift others up and share beautiful words of support for those who may have recently lost a loved one to CVD.
“I’m sorry you’re experiencing this heartache, because it’s awful. I don’t believe everything happens for a reason, because I don’t believe there’s any worthy reason we should lose someone we love.
“But we can find meaning within every experience we endure, good or bad - whether that’s learning an appreciation for life, gratitude for our loved ones, or tapping into resilience you never knew you were capable of.
“And there will be times where you feel like you’re drowning and can’t begin to imagine a future without them. Just focus on this moment, the present moment, and get through that. Don’t think forward. Just get through the moment you’re in.
“And while things will never be the same and you will forever have grief by your side, you will be okay.”
And as she strides on, towards the finish line, one of Kelsey’s favourite quotes propels her forward: “If not with you, then for you.”
“My dad will always be with me, cheering me on. As your family, we’ll make the story of our lives worth watching, Chrisso”.
HRI is completely blown away by Kelsey’s heartfelt mission – and her determination to help make a difference and save lives in her beloved dad’s name.
If you would like to get behind Kelsey, you can donate here to ‘Tri 4 Chrisso’.