For Cindy Kehl, hospital visits became an all too frequent occurrence in her life. In 1991 her sister was diagnosed with dilated familial cardiomyopathy, a genetic form of heart disease. Her sister was put on the transplant waiting list and eventually received a second chance at life, however many of Cindy’s family members, who also suffered from the condition, were not as fortunate. With her grandmother passing at the age of 21, her brother at 29, and her mom at 58, all Cindy could do was hope she would never be diagnosed with the condition that effected so many people in her life.
Just a year after her sister’s transplant, Cindy started to feel that “things were just not right”. Whether it was struggling to carry groceries up the stairs, difficulty walking across a parking lot, or having to rest after taking a shower, simple tasks gradually became a daily battle. Thankfully, Cindy had a great support system as her two sons helped her along the way. In September of 1992 Cindy went into congestive heart failure.
Every month for the next year, Cindy made the three hour trek to Seattle for appointments and check-ups, which regularly turned into hospital admittance. Eventually, her health deteriorated to the point that she required continuous intravenous drugs that could only be administered and maintained in the hospital environment. Though that year was tiring for her family, Cindy remained optimistic.
Reflecting on that time Cindy said, “I knew so little, but one thing was clear – I had to be strong for my boys.” And that is exactly what she did. On September 18, 1993, Cindy received the best news she could possibly hear, “we have a heart for you”. The miracle her and her family had been waiting for finally arrived, but there still was one more obstacle Cindy would have to overcome.
Seven days after Cindy’s heart transplant, her new heart suddenly stopped working. She was immediately placed on a machine that would provide 36 hours to find another heart. As the hours ticked away, and the prospect of receiving a second transplant seemed dim, Cindy was then blessed with a second miracle – one side of her heart started working again. Then, eventually the other side!
Today, 23 years later, Cindy’s heart is as strong and healthy as ever.
“Organ donation had given me, not only life, but the opportunity to get on with living again…I have been able to dance with my son at his wedding, witness the birth of my beautiful grandbabies, and have had the opportunity to be an important part of their lives” said Cindy.
Cindy’s life, however, continued to face more challenges and tragedy as the same disease took the life of her oldest son at the age of 24. Later, her second son was diagnosed with the familial heart condition at 19. Even having faced a great deal of tragedy in her life, Cindy reminds us that although life isn’t always easy, it can also be beautiful and joyful. Because of a generous organ donor, her son was given a second chance at life when he received his heart transplant on Mother’s day 2013.
“What a joy, what a gift!” says Cindy. “Without someone’s incredible gift to me, I would not have been there to help him through his own transplant challenges.”
When thinking about organ donation and the impact it has for other people’s lives, Cindy also reminds us of the beauty of life and the gratitude for those who give.
“What I have learned, and am reminded of frequently, is that life is fleeting and you must truly embrace every moment. Hang on to the joy, even when times are difficult. Life is precious. Not only has organ donation given me life, and my sister, my nephew but my son as well. There is no greater gift for a mother than to know that her son has the opportunity to live a full and rich life thanks to someone’s priceless and selfless gift in their darkest hour. I am so very grateful.”