I was born with Congenital Heart Disease. The first four years of my life were spent in and out of hospitals, and the first two took an incredible toll on my family, particularly my mother. In 1976, at just two years of age, I became the first baby ever to survive open heart surgery. Little did I know that nearly 38 years later I would be fighting for my survival again; this is the story of how Emory saved my life.
It all started back in February, 2013. I woke up one morning coughing and feeling incredibly fatigued, and my symptoms continued to progress over the course of the next few months. By May, things had gotten much worse, to the point that getting up the stairs became a battle. I was having a normal lunch with my mother on July 6th of that year, and as we went to leave my heart suddenly began to race faster than I’ve ever felt before. I immediately knew something was seriously wrong.
I was rushed to the Emergency Room, my heart beating at 221 beats per minute. I spent the next two nights in the Cardiac Care Unit, until Monday, July 8th, when I was transferred to Emory University Hospital. When I got to Emory, I had two teams of cardiologists working on my situation, which was growing more dire by the moment. I was dealing with a bad lung infection, my complete blood count was down, and my heart and kidneys were beginning to shut down, leaving me completely hopeless.
I panicked. The realization that I may die hit me like a freight train. I yelled, cried and had a full-blown meltdown right there in the hospital. I was so frightened of what may come next. My doctor, realizing how scared and embarrassed I was, leaned over and told me, “It’s understandable, Kristin. You are allowed to feel what you’re feeling. Just know that you’re in safe hands now and we’re working on your case 24/7.” I’ve been in so many hospitals throughout my life, but at that moment I knew I was in the best possible place for me.
My doctors at Emory told me I had to have an Implantable Cardioverter Defibrillator (ICD), or “pacemaker” installed, and that without it my survival rate would be around seven percent. I was overjoyed to learn there was a solution to my problem. With my family by my side, I went through the surgery and was ready to endure the long hospital stay to get better.
My surgery was a success. I’d spend the next couple of weeks at the hospital recovering from my lung issues and getting healthy enough to retake control of my life.
My experience over those next weeks at Emory was eye opening. Aside from the top-notch medical service, the treatment my family and I received was incredible. We were kept informed of every decision that was being made, the doctors outlined a clear vision for my path to recovery, and they went above and beyond in their commitment to my comfort and health. In one instance, my doctor refused to go home for the night, staying at the hospital and checking on me every hour to make sure I was doing well.
When my family had questions they were answered immediately, and they were permitted to stay by my side throughout the lengthy recovery process. The entire staff, from the doctors all the way down to the custodians, was the friendliest group of people I’ve ever encountered in any hospital. I truly couldn’t have asked for a better place to get well.
I’m now almost two months removed from what I thought was certain death, and I’m so thankful to Emory for saving my life. Their compassion, love and patient care is something that I’m reminded of every day when I wake up and look in the mirror, because were it not for them I wouldn’t be here today.