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As they continue march through NCAA tournament, soccer stars cherish role in life-saving BYU humanitarian program

Lizzy Braby, Rachel Lyman and BYU's Rheumatic Relief program

In Samoa, two BYU soccer stars make the ultimate save. Video produced by Julie Walker; videography by Scott Baylon, Nate Edwards, Clark Goldsberry and Brian Wilcox. Edited by Julie Walker, Steve Riggs and Aidan Bay.

Rachel Lyman and Lizzy Braby are two of the most experienced and talented soccer players at BYU. The senior starters have been a part of 60 wins during their time at BYU — and they hope to add to that Saturday when the 4th-ranked, undefeated Cougars take on NC State in the Sweet 16 round of the NCAA Tournament.

But the biggest win Rachel and Lizzy have been a part of while at BYU came thousands of miles away from South Field. This summer, the exercise and wellness majors spent two-and-a-half weeks in Samoa screening children for rheumatic heart disease.

Samoa has the highest prevalence of rheumatic heart disease in the world. The disease, which starts with strep throat and develops when rheumatic fever ensues and isn’t treated, can be fatal — especially for children ages 5 to 15. As part of BYU’s Rheumatic Relief program, Rachel, Lizzy and other students and faculty helped screen more than 6,000 Samoan children this summer and literally saved hundreds of lives.

“I went into this experience thinking I was going to make a difference in other people’s lives, but I think the biggest part for me was coming home and realizing they made the biggest difference in my life,” said Lizzy, an outside midfielder who leads BYU in assists this year.

Rheumatic Relief is a collaboration between BYU, the Samoan Government, and medical professionals from Revere Health and the Mayo Clinic. Coordinated through the BYU Biology Department by professors Keoni Kauwe and Richard Gill, it’s a three-pronged effort to diagnose/treat, research and educate about rheumatic heart disease. This year the BYU team visited 24 schools across Samoa and American Samoa.

Lizzy and Rachel not only helped with screening children on their trip, but they also helped with the educational efforts. They said clinicians and volunteers discovered children with rheumatic heart disease at almost every elementary school they visited.

“So many kids there walk into school with the biggest smiles on their faces and they have no idea that maybe something could be wrong with their heart,” said Rachel, who plans to pursue a career in echocardiography. “Being able to go in and screen them and help them understand that they can be healthy if they just know what to do, it's really rewarding.”

Both Lizzy and Rachel said they also felt lucky to develop deeper connections with Rheumatic Relief program director Lori Allen and her husband (and cardiologist) Marv Allen through the experience — especially since they share a bond as part of the BYU student athlete family. (Marv played linebacker on BYU’s 1984 National Championship football team and Lori is a former BYU track athlete.)

“BYU sports is so much more than just playing sports,” Rachel said. “The world is so much bigger and we can make a bigger difference.”

To learn more about Rheumatic Relief or to get involved, visit Rheumatic Relief's homepage: https://biology.byu.edu/rheumatic-relief

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