Written by Erin Dailey
Kelly George of Enfield, NH has a story unlike most. At the age of 12, she was diagnosed with a heart condition called Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy (HCM). Her mother and brother, along with several family members, have also suffered from this condition. Unfortunately, sudden death is very common with this disease and Kelly’s mother suddenly passed away when she was 40 years old from HCM when Kelly was only in her 20s.
According to the American Heart Association, HCM can be caused by abnormal genes that makes the walls of the pumping chamber thicken and stiffen, limiting how much blood the ventricle can take in and pump out with each heartbeat. It is considered the most common genetic disease of the heart muscle.
Kelly found herself compensating for her heart condition growing up, never being too active as it would leave her short of breath with a high heart rate. This was her normal, until one day she fainted. This ultimately led to the decision to get an Implantable Cardioverter Defibrillator (ICD). ICDs are battery-powered devices that are implanted to restore normal heart rhythm and prevent sudden cardiac death. They can deliver an electric pulse or shock to help restore a normal heartbeat to your heart if it is beating chaotically and much too fast. Cardiac defibrillation is a way to return an abnormally fast or disorganized heartbeat to normal with an electric shock.
After having the device, Kelly suffered from heart arrhythmias twice and credits the ICD with saving her life. Although the ICD saved her life, it also left her consumed with every thought and movement. She understood firsthand how HCM can cause sudden death and it made her feel overly aware of her surroundings, how she felt and what she was doing 24/7 to the point it took over all her thoughts.
Unfortunately, Kelly’s heart disease progressed to heart failure. Two ICDs and nine years later, she learned that she needed to have a heart transplant. Kelly was on the list for a new heart for a short five weeks before receiving a new heart. She believes that her AB+ blood type, which is the universal recipient, is the reason she was able to get a new heart so quickly.
On December 3rd, 2009, Kelly successfully received a healthy heart. She never forgets about her donor as she says, “My donor is with me with every activity I do, with every holiday, birthday and anniversary I celebrate.”
Kelly immediately felt better after the heart transplant and finally experienced what it was like to have a normal heartbeat. She used to notice how strong her husband’s beating heart was and thought something was wrong because her own heartbeat was so weak.
She has two grown sons, and one was diagnosed with HCM at age 2 after having surgery for an elongated mitral valve. He is now 32 and able to take medications for this condition. She hopes he won’t need a transplant and explains how the genetic testing and diagnosis is so much easier now due to advances in technology. Her other relatives have been able get tested as well to stay proactive.
Kelly lives much differently after receiving a new heart, as she is now able to live to enjoy every day, instead of feeling scared of possibly exerting too much energy. She now lives life to the fullest and enjoys skiing, hiking, traveling, and spending time with her family and new puppy!