An Indiana woman who suffered a heart attack at age 14 received a life-changing heart transplant a decade later and encourages others to become organ donors if possible.
Jaelyn Kinchelow, 24, of Avon, Indiana, collapsed one day while running in college track practice at just 14 years old. It was later discovered that she had suffered a heart attack.
She underwent open-heart surgery where doctors repaired a torn coronary artery – near her heart – using a vein in her leg.
The surgery lasted almost ten years, allowing the student to take up roller skating, join a choir and even start studying to become a nurse.
But during her final semester of nursing school, Kinchelow began to struggle with shortness of breath and found herself unable to climb stairs – which led doctors at Riley’s Hospital for Children in Indianapolis to to register it on the list of transplants.
Two months later, she was called before entering the shower saying they had found the heart and inviting her in for the 12-hour operation.
Heart attacks are very rare in children, but they can occur, often caused by an underlying heart development problem. It is unclear if Kinchelow had any heart defects before the heart attack.
Jaelyn Kinchelow, 24, of Avon, Indiana, suffered a heart attack while running to school when she was just 14. She has now received a heart transplant at Riley’s Hospital for Children in Indianapolis, Indiana,
Kinchelow is pictured left in 2012 after suffering his heart attack. Doctors repaired a torn coronary artery near his heart using a vein in his leg. And she is pictured back in hospital for her heart transplant
Kinchelow is pictured above at Riley’s Hospital for Children in Indianapolis, where she was on the waiting list for two months before having a heart transplant
What leaves a child at risk for a heart attack?
Heart attacks are the leading cause of death in the United States among the elderly.
But in rare cases, they can also occur in young children.
They are triggered either due to an “overcirculation failure”, when the blood on both sides of the heart mixes.
Or because of “pump failure”, when the heart muscle is damaged and stops contracting properly.
These are both caused by developmental issues, when the heart has not formed properly.
About one in 100 children suffers from heart defects.
Source: American Heart Association.
Kinchelow broke down as she described the moment she got the phone call saying they had a heart for her.
She said: “It was like, you know, we never know when a heart will be available: you can wait two weeks, you can wait six months, you can wait a year.” I just had to mentally prepare myself.
But three months into the wait her family said ‘before you go in the shower, we have Debbie on the phone, she’s my transplant coordinator and it’s a Sunday and she’s at phone.
“I said Debbie never calls on Sundays.”
Holding back tears, she continued, “I didn’t want to hope because I’m like it could be anything, you know, so it’s okay.
“She said, ‘We have good news, we’ve been watching a heart for about an hour and a half for you’.”
“I just lost it.”
She was brought in for a 12-hour operation, which took so long because her old heart was so enlarged that it was difficult to remove.
Kinchelow was released this month and now plans to “pick up where she left off” and complete her undergraduate studies to become a nurse.
She was inspired to start studying nursing because of how kind nurses were to her after her heart attack.
Heart attacks in children are normally triggered by ‘overcirculation breakdown’, when blood on both sides of the heart mixes, or ‘pump breakdown’, when muscle is damaged and stops pumping normally, explains the American Heart Association.
This is usually due to an already present heart defect.
The most common is the ventricular septal defect (VSD), when there is a hole in the wall of the heart separating its two sides. It affects around 42 babies in 10,000.
Describing when she had a heart attack in 2012, Kinchelow told Good Morning America: “All I remembered was slowing down because I just couldn’t keep up.” Shortly after, my legs gave out and I fell to the ground.
“They didn’t think I was going to make it,” she added, “so they had to do everything they could to keep me alive.”
She is pictured above with her family before leaving hospital earlier this month
Kinchelow was told by organ donor coordinator Debbie (left) that she would be getting a new heart. After hearing the news, she said, “I just broke down”
Kinchelow now plans to pick up her life “where I left it” and complete her college degree in nursing. She was inspired to become a nurse by all the experience
She then spent a month in hospital recovering, as well as eight days in a coma, before being allowed to return home.
The second time she had heart problems, Kinchelow said: ‘I couldn’t do everyday activities. I was too tired to go upstairs.
“I went to the hospital and spent three weeks in the hospital in January and then they decided I had to be on the transplant list.”
Since the transplant, Kinchelow has also received a letter from the family of his heart donor – who has not been named.
She described receiving the letter as a “huge surprise” and “so emotional for me”.
The undergraduate nurse revealed her story to encourage more people to sign up to be on the donor list.
She said: ‘If more people were donors there wouldn’t be a waiting list and some people don’t because there aren’t enough donors.
“I want to spread it, think about it and do your research.”
The Human Resources and Services Administration – which maintains the US donor list – says 17 people die every day while waiting for a transplant.
He adds that each donor can save eight lives and improve more than 75 others.
The organ most often requiring a transplant is the kidney, followed by the liver and the heart.
Riley Children’s Hospital has not disclosed the cost of a heart transplant, but estimates suggest it could be around $1.4 million.