Kristin King, an MCPS Teacher and Olney Resident, Gave Birth Last May; Less Than Four Months Later She Received a New Heart

Courtesy of Kristin King’s Heart Journey

Kristin King, 35, is an Olney resident and MCPS Special Education (Augmentative and Alternative Communication, AAC) teacher at Beall Elementary School. She was diagnosed with Peripartum Cardiomyopathy just weeks after having a cesarean and a few months later received a heart transplant. Below is the the story of her difficult journey:

Kristin completed her student teaching and internship at Beall, where she was hired and taught for 10 years as a 3rd grade, 2nd grade, kindergarten, and AAC teacher. Soon after giving birth to her son, what she believed to be a stomach virus ended up being 11 lbs of fluid retention from heart failure. Her husband told her she had to drink a bottle of Gatorade and a pile of crackers before he got home from work or they were going to the emergency room. 5 o’clock rolled around she found herself sitting in a hospital bed at Montgomery General.

She stayed overnight for monitoring and was awoken at 4 a.m. by her nurse telling her they called a code on her because she went into cardiogenic shock. Cardiogenic shock is a life-threatening condition in which your heart suddenly can’t pump enough blood to meet your body’s needs. Within seconds, her room was flooded with medical staff, all shocked that she was awake and aware. She was told her heart was functioning at less than 10% and would be medivaced to MedStar Washington Hospital Center (WHC).

Kristin was in and out of the walls of WHC from July to September, where she stayed in 3 different cardiac units, primarily Cardiovascular ICU, waiting for her donor heart. There, she made Taylor Swift bracelets for the medical staff, created a community of patients who were awaiting their perfect matches, decorated, and did her best to brighten up the unit. She was even able to plan a spa night and movie night. Being away from her children (Taylor,15, Grady, 13, and Gage, 2 months) was the most difficult part of her hospitalization. Taylor spent her 15th birthday dinner with her on FaceTime, Grady worried about her daily, and her husband FaceTimed her nightly so Gage could hear her voice.

While hospitalized, previous students’ families visited, called, e-mailed, texted, and sent her letters. Although she loved it, she was also was saddened knowing that she couldn’t be there with them, and wouldn’t be for the rest of the school year. Knowing she had little ones waiting for her after she received her heart helped her stay positive and optimistic. Kristin and her family were surrounded by love and support from family and friends, something she says she could not have gotten through without.

Kristin tells us she had full faith in the Advanced Heart Failure medical team at WHC, especially her nurses, who have become family to her. She was able to walk, talk, and communicate, but was connected to life sustaining measures, which she did not realize until her recovery. She underwent four separate surgeries, had dozens of procedures, stayed in six different rooms, and now has one fully functioning, beating heart.

“I will never forget the moment I was told they had found my match. My parents were in the room with me and the Nurse Practitioner said, “We have a heart.” I was in total disbelief, still processing that I even needed a new heart, and now, that my new heart was found and within a day or two, would be undergoing open heart surgery. I started crying, and kept saying, “What?” and “Is this for real?” It was hectic for the next 48 hours while I was prepared for surgery. I was transferred to the Surgical Cardiovascular ICU after my 11 hour surgery, where I stayed for 4 days. I was transferred to the cardiac floor unit, where I continued recovering for about a week and a half. My recovery went extremely well and extremely fast.”

“She was in very dire shape but her incredibly strong spirit left no doubt that she would survive and you see it was true. Triumph of spirit over life threatening challenges.”- Dr. Reed M. Shnider, MD, Senior Administrative Partner and Medical Director of Cardiac Rehabilitation and Wellness Services at the MedStar Heart & Vascular Institute

Kristin is now home with her family and is still healing– physically and emotionally. “I have a long year ahead of me but I am beyond grateful to my donor and to have been given this bonus, for myself, my husband, and my children. I went from maternity leave to long term disability and will not be able to return to teaching for the 2023-2024 academic school year. I am thinking of a career shift, as I’m scared to be exposed to viruses and illnesses with being autoimmune suppressed, but my heart (new and old) will always be with Beall.” A friend has organized a fundraiser to support Kristin and her family as she recovers.

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