In October of 1999, Chris Kowalski caught the common flu. Although the symptoms from this everyday ailment are typically short lived, Chris acquired a virus that gave him congestive heart failure. His heart did well during the first six years post diagnoses, but gradually proceeded to worsen. In May of 2007, Chris went through open heart surgery to help stabilize his heart. He hoped this would be his answer to a better quality of life.

A few months post surgery, Chris accepted a Coder/Abstractor position at Bozeman Deaconess Hospital in Montana. He was excited for a new adventure to looked forward to camping, hiking, fishing, and enjoying the many outdoor activities the beautiful state has to offer.

However, as the years passed, Chris grew weaker and his heart health again began to decline. After living with a pacemaker and defibrillator, and going through a few unsuccessful procedures, it was determined that he would need a heart transplant. Chris was placed on the transplant waiting list.

In March of 2016, Chris was hospitalized for an infection in his chest, caused from one of the defibrillator wires connected to his heart. The multiple devices in his heart helped keep thing stable up until this point, but suddenly, the need for a new heart became more dire. Chris had already been on the waiting list for over a year so he didn’t expect the transplant to happen right away. His wait, however, didn’t last long. On April 1, Chris was given the news that there was a heart for him, and it wasn’t a hoax.

His time on the wait list made him realize just how fragile life can be. Today, he doesn’t take a day for granted and thinks of his donor’s life-saving gift each and every day.

“Now I can do things without being short of breath and tired all the time. I look forward to hiking the mountain trails that I could not previously.  I now will have a better quality of life and get to enjoy paying it forward.”

Chris quickly became active in the donation community, spreading awareness about donation by sharing his experience, including at one of our Donation Celebrations in Billings, MT.

Recently, Chris had the opportunity to meet his donor’s family and thank them for the unmeasurable gift their loved one gave him-life. Watch the emotional news story of their meeting here.

Though Chris moved back to Michigan to be closer to family, a piece of his heart will always be on the Montana mountain trails.


Chris speaking at the 2017 Billings Donation Celebration