0514-Feature-Open your heart_Blog

After congenital heart patient Michelle Liedke died two years ago, pop-country artist J.W. Cudd wrote a song to honor his friend’s spirit.

“Open Your Heart” debuted on iTunes in February and kicked off Cudd’s year-long efforts to create a social media and online fundraising campaign to bring awareness about heart health to young adults.

Through December, Cudd will donate all net proceeds from song sales to the American Heart Association.

Michelle died unexpectedly in February 2013 after complications from a medical procedure. She was 24.

Michelle had been born with a congenital heart defect and an enlarged heart. As a newborn, she wasn’t expected to survive, said Michelle’s mother Deborah Liedke.

But Michelle overcame those odds and “became this incredible young woman,” said Liedke.

Michelle Liedke

Michelle Liedke with actress Elizabeth Banks.

At 4 feet tall, Michelle worked as a stand-in for child actors and launched a successful acting career in short films, commercials and music videos.

Cudd and Michelle met in Hollywood when they were both 18. Michelle lived in the apartment above Cudd.

“Michelle was the person who any time it was your birthday or Christmas, you knew she’d be the first to call or text you,” Cudd said. “She was a social butterfly. Her heart was filled with compassion.”

Cudd and his team worked for a year on the song and music video. Actors appearing in the video include Linc Hand of 42, Lindsay Bushman of The Young and the Restless and Gatlin Green of the upcoming miniseries Heroes Reborn.

Even before he met Michelle, Cudd was no stranger to the AHA. He recalls raising money for Jump Rope For Heart as a kid in South Texas and later raising more than $30,000 as part of a local auction.

But as he recruited actors for the music video, he was surprised that not everyone shared his familiarity with the 90-year-old organization.

“I thought, ‘Oh boy. This isn’t only about raising money for the AHA, this could be an eye-opener for young adults across the country to learn what the American Heart Association is all about,’” said Cudd.

More than 50 actors volunteered to appear in the video, and Michelle’s family and friends are seen in pictures.

“It evolved into a really beautiful thing,” said Cudd, who encourages people to buy the song and take their own “Open Your Heart” pictures to post on social media.

Liedke said the campaign’s message is a spot-on narrative for how her daughter lived.

“She truly opened her heart to everyone. She had this love of life that was contagious,” said Liedke.

“That’s what this is about,” she said. “Take care of yourself, live a healthy life and follow your dreams.”

Photos courtesy of J.W. Cudd and Deborah Liedke