An Indiana woman that suffered a heart attack at just age 14 has received a life-changing heart transplant a decade later, and encourages others to become organ donors if possible.
Jaelyn Kinchelow, 24, from Avon, Indiana, collapsed one day while running at middle school track practice at only age 14. 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 from her leg.
The surgery held for almost ten years allowing the student to take up roller skating, join a choir and even begin studying to become a nurse.
But in her final semester of nursing school, Kinchelow began struggling with shortness of breath and found herself unable to walk up stairs — leading doctors at Riley’s Hospital for Children, in Indianapolis, to put her on the transplant list.
Two months later she was called before getting in the shower saying they had found the heart, and inviting her in for the 12-hour surgery.
Heart attacks are very rare among children, but they can happen — often being caused by an underlying developmental problem with the heart. It is not clear whether Kinchelow had any heart defects before the heart attack.
Jaelyn Kinchelow, 24, from Avon in Indiana, suffered a heart attack while running a race at school when she was just 14 years old. She has now received a heart transplant at Riley’s Hospital for Children in Indianapolis, Indiana,
Kinchelow is pictured left in 2012 after suffering her heart attack. Doctors repaired a torn coronary artery near her heart using a vein from her leg. And she is pictured right back in the 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 getting a heart transplant
What leaves a child at risk of a heart attack?
Heart attacks are the leading cause of death in the U.S. among older adults.
But in rare cases they can also occur in young children.
They are triggered either because of an ‘over-circulation failure’, when blood from both sides of the heart mixes.
Or because of a ‘pump failure’, when the heart muscle becomes damaged and stops contracting properly.
These are both caused by developmental problems, when the heart has not formed properly.
About one in 100 children are suffering from heart defects.
Source: American Heart Association.
Kinchelow broke down describing the moment she got the phone call saying they had a heart for her.
She said: ‘It was just like, you know, we never know when a heart is going to be available: You could wait two weeks, you could wait six months, you could wait a year. I just had to mentally prepare myself.
But three months into the wait, her family told her ‘before you get in the shower we have Debbie on the phone, that’s my transplant coordinator and it’s a Sunday and she is on the phone calling.
‘I said Debbie never calls on Sunday.’
Fighting back tears, she continued: ‘I didn’t want to get my hopes up because I’m like it could be anything, you know, so I’m like okay.
‘She said: ‘We have good news, we have been looking at 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 discharged this month, and now plans to ‘pick up where she left off’ and finish her undergraduate studies to become a nurse.
She was inspired to start studying nursing because of how kind the nurses were to her after her heart attack.
Heart attacks in children are normally triggered by an ‘over-circulation failure’, when blood from two sides of the heart mixes, or a ‘pump failure’, when the muscle becomes damaged and stops pumping normally, says 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 about 42 in every 10,000 babies.
Describing when she had the heart attack in 2012, Kinchelow told Good Morning America: ‘All I could remember was myself slowing down because I just could not keep up. Shortly after that, 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 all they could to keep me alive,’
She is pictured above with her family before leaving the 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 off’ and finish getting her degree in nursing from university. She was inspired to become a nurse by the whole 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 faced heart problems, Kinchelow said: ‘I couldn’t do daily activities. I was too tired to walk upstairs.
‘I went to the hospital and spent three weeks in the hospital in January, and then they decided I needed to be on the transplant list.’
Since the transplant, Kinchelow has also received a letter from the family of her heart donor — who has not been named.
She described getting the letter as being a ‘huge surprise’ and ‘so emotional for me’.
The nursing undergraduate has revealed her tale to encourage more people to sign up to be on the donors list.
She said: ‘If more people were donors, there wouldn’t be a waiting list, and some people don’t make it because there aren’t enough donors.
‘I want to put it out there, just think about it and do your research.’
The Human Resources and Services Administration — which manages the U.S. donors list — says 17 people die every day waiting for a transplant.
It adds that every donor can save eight lives, and enhance more than 75 others.
The most common organ to need a transplant for is a kidney, followed by the liver and the heart.
Riley’s Hospital for Children did not reveal how much a heart transplant costs, but estimates suggest it could be around $1.4million.