She’s getting a new lease on life!
A 24-year-old Indiana woman who suffered a heart attack at age 14 receives a successful heart transplant, Good Morning America reports.
Jaelyn Kinchelow was in middle school at track practice when chest tightness stopped her in her tracks. “All I could remember was myself slowing down because I just couldn’t keep up. Shortly after that, my legs gave out and I fell to the ground,” she recalled.
She was then rushed to the hospital by ambulance where doctors told her she was having a heart attack, the teen undergoing emergency heart surgery. Thankfully, doctors were able to repair a torn coronary artery wall using a vein from Jaelyn’s leg, but she was told she would still need a new heart.
“After surgery my heart was only functioning at about 5%. They put me on an ECMO machine. They didn’t think I was going to make it so they had to do all they could to keep me alive,” Jaelyn recalled.
While the machine worked overtime to send oxygen back to her blood so her heart and lungs could heal properly, Jaelyn ended up spending eight days in a coma and almost a month in the hospital before she was able to go home. When she did, she realized that life for her was much different. Still, she persisted, going on to high school, being active again through roller skating and singing in the choir, and even going on to earn her bachelor’s degree and start her career as a nurse, paying it forward by helping save other lives.
This past January, while in her last semester of nursing school, Jaelyn began to feel some shortness of breath, noticing that she couldn’t perform normal everyday tasks like walking upstairs. A trip to the hospital would confirm her fears, Jaelyn spending three weeks in the hospital before doctors let her know she would need a heart transplant. The weeks would turn to months as Jaelyn anticipated a heart becoming available for her.
“The call is the thing you look forward to when you’re waiting. You just never know when it’s going to come. They were saying that with my blood type, it’s like one of the longest waits. That was one of the things I was just scared of,” she explained.
On March 27, she finally got the call, a woman named Debbie, Jaelyn’s transplant coordinator, calling to let her know she had finally received a heart. The next day, Jaelyn underwent a 12-hour heart transplant surgery, her old heart so damaged and enlarged that 6 of those hours were dedicated just to removing it. Dr. Robert K. Darragh, Jaelyn’s pediatric cardiologist at Riley Children’s Health said they still don’t know how her heart became so damaged.
“There are some questions medically that we still don’t have perfect answers for her about how she got to the point of needing a transplant,” said Dr. Darragh.
While recovering, Jaelyn received a letter from the family of her heart donor, who said they “jumped through hoops” to make sure they got the letter to Jaelyn. She called the moment “emotional,” saying because it normally takes a year for families to connect, the letter was a huge surprise. While on the mend, Jaelyn realized it was important for her to tell her story so she could raise awareness about the prevalence of heart disease among women and the importance of organ donation.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, heart disease is the leading cause of death among Black women in the country, heart disease causes one in every five female deaths across races with only half of women knowing that heart disease is the No. 1 cause of death.
The Department of Health and Human Services also reports that there are currently more than 100,000 adults and children on the national transplant waiting list, the number exacerbated by the lack of organ donors.
“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,” said Jaelyn.
This May, five months after being admitted, Jaelyn walked out of the hospital with a new heart. She plans to finish what she started, returning to school for her nursing degree, while also embarking on a new journey of advocating for heart disease awareness and overall wellness.
Photo Courtesy of Jaelyn Kinchelow/Good Morning America