The person in the front of the canoe in this photo is Kristin Millar. The remarkable thing about this scene is that Kristin is attached to an LVAD (a Left Ventricular Assistive Device) – a pump that does the work the heart does for most of us, without our thinking about it much. But Kris thought about her LVAD a lot; the batteries she had to carry with her at all times to keep it working were pretty heavy.
“Should she be out in a canoe?” some of her extended family on the dock wondered. “What if it overturns?” (The LVAD would be toast and so would Kris. No one said this out loud.) And Kristin was too busy living her life to the fullest as she waited for a new heart to worry about such things. She worked out at the gym every day, so she’d be as strong as she could be when a heart eventually came available. She continued working at the children’s hospital in Winnipeg. She socialized. She even met a new boyfriend. She made the necessary and complicated arrangements to be allowed by her medical team to go to her extended family’s cottage for a few days, it meant that much to her. And she advocated articulately for the cause of organ donation.
Late one night in early January, Kris got the call from Ottawa. “We have a heart.” On the way to the airport, excited that she would soon have the heart she’d been waiting for for over a year and a half (she’s small and her blood type is not common) – Kris insisted that they stop the car so that she, her parents, and her sister, could pause to give thanks to the family that had lost a loved one and had followed through on the loved one’s wish to donate the heart that would change Kris’s life.
It was an honour and it was inspiring to visit with Kris and her family during their time in Ottawa. (We are members of the same extended family lucky enough to share summers at the cottage on Lake of the Woods.)
Kris is back home in her own apartment in Winnipeg now, and doing well. Having a heart transplant is a little more complicated than having one’s tonsils out, so there’s follow up activity with her medical team there. But she’s attending classes at university, spending time with friends; she’s even dancing.
You can (and you should) hear Kris speak for herself, articulately and movingly, of her experiences as a heart patient – and beyond – in an interview on CBC’s Information Radio and through a piece she wrote and delivered on CBC’s The Current on Valentine’s Day, the day of hearts. (It’s short but powerful, and starts at the 23:50 mark.)
Oh, and if you haven’t done it already, please be sure to sign your organ donation card (you can get one online) and make sure that your loved ones are aware of your wishes, too.