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‘I’m just grateful to be alive’: Spokane and a pacemaker are in Miss World America Washington’s heart

Even though Shree Saini resides in Ellensburg, her heart has been in Spokane in more ways than one. The reigning Miss World America Washington has many friends in the Lilac City.

“I absolutely love Spokane,” Saini said. “I love visiting my friends there. It’s a beautiful place.”

Saini, 24, holds Spokane in such high regard due to Sacred Heart Medical Center & Children’s Hospital. Saini, who danced and played sports as a prepubescent, was diagnosed with a complete heart block when she was living in Moses Lake in 2009.

“My cardiologist at Sacred Heart saved my life,” Saini said. “That was a huge turning point for me. I was told that I couldn’t dance or play sports, and it felt like my life just stopped. I thought I would have to live on a machine. But I wasn’t going to let that adversity stop me.”

Saini had heart surgery at Sacred Heart and a pacemaker implanted in her chest. But Saini hasn’t just led a normal life, as the immigrant from Punjab, India, has been a super achiever. It makes sense that Saini has a pacemaker since it’s difficult to keep pace with the academic activist.

Saini studied nonprofit management at Harvard, acting at the Yale School of Drama, social entrepreneurship at Stanford and journalism at the University of Washington.

During her experience at the latter college, Saini once again experienced adversity. While driving on an icy patch in Moses Lake in 2016, Saini skidded off the road, and her car rolled over into a ditch.

“I’m just grateful to be alive after experiencing that,” Saini said. “I had wounds all over my body.”

Saini suffered burns to her face. “I had to wear a giant hat and a face mask or my skin would burn because of the sun,” Saini said. “But I didn’t want to feel sad or defeated. I just remained positive and did what I had to do.”

Saini’s parents, Sanjay Saini, 48 and Etka Saini, 44, are role models of perseverance and adaptability since they left family and friends to embark on life in a foreign country.

“What they did was not easy, and I admire them for it,” Saini said. “My family always loved the opportunities this country has to offer. Our family has always been about giving back to our country. We wanted a symbol of hope and unity.”

A 3,200-square-foot American flag flies at the Saini home, which also includes 23-year-old son Shahrose. That’s quite a symbol of the Saini family’s love for America; however, it’s dwarfed by the accomplishments of their daughter.

Saini is the current 2020 Miss World America Washington. Her responsibilities include holding court at events as a speaker.

“I’ve spoken at at least 70 events,” Saini said. I work with nonprofits. What’s so close with me is working with the American Heart Association. I speak about heart health.”

However, Saini’s content goes beyond making proper dietary choices and exercise. “My main message is about having a generous heart,” Saini said. “I saw poverty at a very young age when I was in India. We in this country have a responsibility to give back.”

Saini and her family are thankful to reside in America – and in particular Washington. “There’s no place like this beautiful state, which I love representing,” Saini said. “I have the best of all worlds here. I live in Central Washington, but I see my high school friends in Spokane as much as possible.

“I have spent so much time there, particularly when I would visit Sacred Heart, which I went to until I was 20. Now I go to Virginia Mason (Hospital and Seattle Medical Center), and I love Seattle. I hope everyone realizes how fortunate they are to live in a state that is so beautiful.”

Count on the Saini family to toast the Evergreen State on Thanksgiving.

“We’ll spend Thanksgiving together with our wonderful dog, Charlie, who is a beautiful 1-year-old golden retriever. We’re going to be compliant with what Gov. Inslee has requested.”

Speaking of Gov. Jay Inslee, Saini can see herself in his position someday. “I would love to do something in terms of civic service. Perhaps it will be as a state representative or governor of Washington one day. I want to give back. How can I not since I have received so much?”

Considering Saini’s intelligence, beauty and her uncanny ability to come across as humble despite her impressive accomplishments, perhaps the uber-motivated ballet dancer will realize her dreams.

“I hope to make a difference in as many lives as possible,” Saini said. Saini has some time on her hands since she has yet to reach the quarter-century mark. The laidback ballerina, who has been accepted to train at the Joffrey Ballet, is just like her peers in many ways.

Saini loves listening to podcasts and pop music and watching romantic comedies when she’s not reading self-help books.

“I enjoy life,” Saini said. “I get to do so much. I’m very fortunate.”

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