Keynote Speakers | RISE West 2024 | A RISE Health Conference



Each year, RISE West brings together world-class keynote speakers that deliver powerful and insightful messages in a way that moves audiences to action. These speakers are an important part of the conference experience and exemplify the spirit and ingenuity that drives our attendees to pursue success.

Opening Keynote Presentation: Unlocking the Hero Within

Heather "Lucky" Penney
Heroic 9/11 F-16 Fighter Pilot

Join us as Heather “Lucky” Penney recounts her experience on the morning of 9/11, when she and her flight lead were sent in a suicide mission against Flight 93. Her reflections on the extraordinary heroism of the passengers show us how we, too, can choose to cultivate our own inner hero.

About the Keynote Speaker
Most widely recognized for her service on September 11, Heather “Lucky” Penney was part of the first wave of women who went directly into fighters from pilot training. The first and only woman in the 121st Fighter Squadron, Heather deployed to Operation Iraqi Freedom for initial combat operations as a night-time SCUD Hunter in the western deserts of Iraq, also supporting Special Operations Forces. She flew the F-16 for ten years before having to make the difficult decision to leave the fighter aviation as a single mother. She then flew the special airlift mission and retired out of the Pentagon. For over ten years, Heather was a Director of various Air Force programs for Lockheed Martin, specializing in capture management, government relations, and strategic business development. She now is a Senior Resident Fellow for the Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies at the Air Force Association, where she is an expert on defense policy issues related to airpower and the Air Force.  

Special Presentation: Building Resilience Against All Odds

Jonathan Heider Laedtke
Paralympic Swimmer, Inclusivity Expert, Speaker
Split Star Productions

With a lifetime of experience as a congenital quad amputee, seasoned Paralympic swimmer, and accessibility designer, Jonathan brings a
n unmatched worldly perspective. Fueled by his desire to trailblaze for future generations and for those whose voices aren’t heard, he has set out to be the change. Join us to hear Jonathan’s unique outlook on resiliency, determination, and ways for health care to be more inclusive.

About the Keynote Speaker
Born during the Croatian Civil War of Independence (1991-1995), I was placed in an orphanage at birth from my biological family. During this period of time, a Catholic nun from Green Bay, Wisconsin was on a mission trip to Split, Croatia, in order to assist refugee children who had been separated from their parents. Knowing a family back in Green Bay who might be open to adopting a child, she immediately reached out to them. She stated that she found a little boy with no arms and no legs and asked if they wanted him. Sight unseen, they answered a resounding, "Yes!"

Fast forward a few years, I am a high energy kid in small-town Wisconsin in need of an outlet and wanting to be like my older siblings who all had sports of their own. I soon plunged into the world of athletics, quickly grasping onto the sport of swimming. Starting off locally, swimming quickly took me to the national stage as well as the international stage where I competed in Junior Nationals, Junior Worlds, Worlds, Pan-American Games, Canadian Open, Greek Open, and many others.

In 2010, I humbly accepted a position on the resident team at the Olympic and Paralympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colorado where I trained full-time as a Paralympic Swimmer. It was there I began educating and advocating on accessibility, diversity and inclusion through speeches, workshops, and events. After just missing the 2012 team for the Paralympic Games in London, England, I floated down from cloud 9 and enrolled myself into college.

In 2014 to continue my advocacy and education in diversity and inclusion, I signed with a public speaking agency out of Minnesota called The College Agency. This agency allowed me to speak to colleges and universities through their speaker series and Ted talk events.

In 2017, I graduated with high honors from UW-Milwaukee with an undergraduate degree in architecture and a minor in certificate in real estate development. From May 2017 through June 2020 I worked at local architecture firms in the Milwaukee area specializing in construction documents, space planning, rendering, marketing proposals, website development, as well as interior design; all while maintaining my public speaking on the side.

In February 2021, I separated myself from the public speaking agency and opened my own company called Split Star Productions providing keynote speeches and diversity and inclusion workshops to colleges, universities, nonprofits, and companies at various scales. My keynotes and workshops are specialized in accessibility and architecture, disabilities, athletics, as well as LGBTQIA+ through implementation of inclusive techniques in social media, office environments, and day to day language have proven to reach a previously untapped market.

I continue my mission today advocating for diversity and inclusion alongside my passion for architecture and design. I look forward to connecting with you soon and finding a way to improve the community around us


Keynote: A Conversation on End-of-Life Care

Hadley Vlahos, RN
Registered Nurse Specialized in Hospice and Palliative Care
NYT Best-Selling Author of "The In-Between - Unforgettable Encounters During Life's Final Moments"
Founder of the Hadley House


Hear from Hadley Vlahos, a hospice nurse and storyteller on life lessons and profound wisdom gleaned from her hospice patients as well as suggestions on how managed care leaders can positively impact end-of-life care.  Reflect how end-of-life care not only imparts lessons on mortality but also enlightens us on how to truly live. 


About the Keynote Speaker

When Hadley Vlahos tells people what she does for a living, most are surprised. Vlahos has worked as an at-home hospice nurse for nearly 10 years, a job that many think is too tough, too sad, and filled with too much devastation. But for Vlahos working in palliative care is a something she feels lucky to do. 

Vlahos’ journey to becoming a hospice nurse did not follow a linear path. Her childhood dream was to become a writer and when she started college, a career in nursing never crossed her mind. 

While in many families death is a taboo topic, in Vlahos’ family death was literally a part of life. Her grandparents were licensed embalmers and funeral directors and topics around dying were naturally part of dinnertime conversations. 

Vlahos was also raised in a strict religious household, attending a private Episcopalian school in Baton Rouge until she was ten years old. At fifteen, the sudden death of a friend made Vlahos question many of her beliefs. After high school Vlahos attended Florida State University and at nineteen she became a single mom. Her life was setting off on a different trajectory and she enrolled in nursing school to be able to support herself and her baby. After graduation Vlahos worked in immediate care and a nursing home, but it wasn’t until she started working in hospice care that she realized she was doing exactly what she was meant to do. 

Hadley Vlahos started documenting her experiences as a hospice nurse and stories of her patients on on TikTok and now reaches over 1.5 million followers (June 2023) as “Nurse Hadley.” 

In her New York Times-bestselling memoir The In-Between: Unforgettable Encounters During Life’s Final Moments, Hadley shares new stories of the most impactful experiences she has had with her patients—from the woman who never once questioned her faith until she was close to death, to the older man seeing visions of his late daughter, to the young patient who laments that she spent too much of her short life worrying about what others thought of her.