BAF Changemakers: Black Heart Traveler

Mel Steffen (L) and Lindsey Ruzek (R) are the co-founders of the Wisconsin-based Black Heart Traveler organization.

Since founding Black Heart Traveler (BHT) in 2020, Mel and Lindsey have helped to raise over $30,000 for the Brain Aneurysm Foundation, which has funded the Kati Lorge Chair of Research. Their husbands have also been instrumental in the founding and ongoing success of BHT.

(L to R) Mike Ruzek, Lindsey Ruzek, Mel Steffen, Aaron Steffen

BAF: Tell us a little about your connection with brain aneurysms.

In 2020, we lost our good friend, Kati Lorge, to a ruptured brain aneurysm. Kati was an otherwise healthy 28-year-old whose aneurysm had been found just a few weeks prior. On a mission to carry on Kati’s legacy and honor her love of travel, the Black Heart Traveler organization was founded.

BHT sells stickers with 100% of the proceeds being donated to the BAF. We encourage people to take pictures with the stickers during their travels and post them to social media tagging @blackhearttraveler. Our hope is to share Kati’s story and spread brain aneurysm awareness across the world.

BAF: When did you first learn about with the BAF?

BHT: Our immediate group of friends, including us, were very ignorant when it came to the causes, history, and treatment options regarding brain aneurysms until Kati’s life was cut short from one. Naturally, we immediately felt the need to educate ourselves and started that journey like millions of others with a google search. “What is a brain aneurysm?” Google brought us to the Brain Aneurysm Foundation where we quickly learned the importance of the life saving work that the foundation has committed itself to. From the launch of BHT in 2020, through today, our partnership with the foundation has been a game changer in our fundraising efforts.

“We were asked in September 2020 to help make sure Kati’s name would continue to be said and remembered, and BHT will continue to strive to make that happen.”

BAF: Why is it important for you to be an advocate and fundraise for the BAF community?

BHT: Because it saves lives. We have been contacted so many times from strangers who have been recently diagnosed, who have survived ruptures, and others who have lost a loved one from an aneurysm since sharing Kati’s story. The research and facts that the foundation is constantly talking about speaks for itself. It is abundantly clear that the work being done behind the scenes holds significant importance in the pursuit of more funding, less preventable deaths, and further clarity on all that is associated with aneurysms.

Watch the video below and listen to Mel and Lindsey tell the story of Kati and how BHT ended up helping them grieve and keep Kati’s memory alive through memorial stickers.