It was July 4, 2008, and Kristi and her friends were celebrating the holiday in Bristol. All of a sudden, this otherwise healthy, vibrant young woman began experiencing crushing chest pain and nausea. Her partner called 911, and she ended up in the Emergency Department at Porter Hospital, where blood work indicated she’d had a heart attack. “I was in the best shape of my life,” she says today. “It was a total shock.”
Through a blur of tests and more days in the hospital, she eventually learned that the cause was myocarditis, a virus that, without warning, had attacked her heart.
Over the next several months, as she recovered, Kristi came to terms with the fact that the damage to her heart was probably permanent. There was scar tissue that would never go away. Still, she was cleared by her doctors to return to work, to running – in moderation – and life slowly became a different version of normal – for four years.
August 16, 2012
It was a beautiful, sunny August morning. As Kristi and her boyfriend Luke rounded out mile 3 of their run, heading down Kellogg Road in Essex, she remembers commenting on how fortunate she was to be able to run, given her heart history.
That’s the last thing she remembers.
She collapsed on the side of the road. She had no pulse for at least 10 minutes. Luke performed rescue breaths, flagged down a motorist who knew CPR, and someone went to the Edge Fitness Center to get a defibrillator while they waited for the EMTs to arrive. Within 20 minutes, she was at what was then Fletcher Allen, where she was intubated, put in a medically induced coma, and packed in ice to lower her body temperature.
At 3 a.m., she opened her eyes briefly. Luke and her father were at her bedside. She doesn’t remember much of those first few days in the hospital, when Bob Lobel, MD, inserted an ICD device that would act as a pacemaker and would shock her heart if it went into a fatal rhythm again.
Today, Kristi looks at the jagged scar on her chest and sees the outline of the lifesaving technology that, she hopes, will never be called upon to save her life. In the years since, she has tried to put distance between herself and what happened. “For a while,” she says, “I lived in fear.”
But recently she has been telling her story, and in the process of learning what happened to her during those minutes and days after her heart stopped, she has become more comfortable with the reality of what happened – and the meaning that it potentially holds for others. “I’m so much more thankful for everyone and everything in my life. I manage stress so much better. I live a more balanced life. I exercise, I sleep well, I eat well. I enjoy all the small moments and I keep everything in better perspective. I know that this is a true second chance.”
And even though there was nothing in her history to indicate a reason for her heart problems. . . even though she was a fit, healthy young woman with no lifestyle issues to speak of . . . she wants to help others by sharing her story. She wants women to be aware of their heart health. She wants people to know CPR – because it saved her life. She wants people to know their risk factors – because, she says, “it can happen to anyone.”
Now engaged to marry Luke, they are simultaneously planning a wedding and hoping to start their next adventure: parenthood. Told by her doctors that pregnancy would be too risky, Kristi has a close friend who has offered to be a surrogate for them. That process is underway.
“So, who knows,” she says with a laugh. “We may get married and have a baby the same month!”
Here’s to second chances.