We are pleased to announce that heart recipient Brynn Carriere McKenna is the first recipient of the Children’s Organ Transplant Society of BC’s post-secondary school bursary. This $500 award is one way we are helping to support young transplant recipients. In the fall, Brynn will begin studies at the University of British Columbia.

This is her story.

I have come within arm’s reach of death more times than I can count. In fact, the majority of my near-death experiences happened within my first 12 months of life. I was born with congenital and electrical heart complications: Dilated Cardiomyopathy and Long QT syndrome. Bottom line was that my heart diagnosis meant my heart was two times the size it should have been, while it also presented with an irregular heartbeat.

By the time I was six months old, I had endured two open heart surgeries and multiple surgical procedures. After open heart surgery for a pacemaker on the day I was born, I was staring into the eyes of death when my blood pressure and my heart’s electrical system were having a hard time stabilizing; spending my first night on this earth in the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit under 24-hour care, my parents not knowing if I would survive. My family was told that I would either live or die. While I pulled through and my heart stabilized, the drama was not over.

Weeks after my first open heart surgery, I developed a serious infection on the surgical site and there was a great deal of concern over whether or not the infection would reach my heart. Again, I made a full recovery after being hospitalized. However, only a few months later, I endured a serious cardiac incident called Ventricular Tachycardia and would have died if my pacemaker had not kicked in. It was then revealed that I had one of the most serious congenital heart conditions called Dilated Cardiomyopathy. My parents were told I would not make it to my first birthday unless I received a lifesaving heart transplant. For my family, this meant moving to Toronto for my treatment and to wait for my second chance at life.

Four weeks after arriving in Toronto, my second chance at life happened when a heart became available. A baby boy, my donor, had lost his fight that day, so I could continue mine. I owe my life to that child who died, so life could be pumped back into my veins.

But life didn’t suddenly get simple post-transplant. Suddenly, my parents had to navigate through a maze of treatment information, something which I now have taken on. There is always the fear that my body will reject the foreign object, that is my heart. This means I must take anti-rejection medication for the rest of my life. The anti-rejection medication works by weakening my immune system, so that my heart isn’t recognized as alien to my body. On top of taking medication twice daily, I must undergo and endure endless medical tests. Blood work every six weeks, ECGs, echoes, stress tests, nuclear medicine tests and heart catheterizations are the top requirements. The constant medical appointments can often make me feel that I have the weight of the world on my shoulders.

Now, seventeen years later, my family and I still celebrate the anniversary of my heart transplant every October 12. That day in 2001, my fight continued, but I still wonder about my heart donor. Because of privacy laws in Canada, the only information my family and I were able to obtain about my donor is that my heart came from a baby boy from Ohio around the same age as me. That child lost his life, so that I could continue mine – someone I share so much with yet know nothing about.

It’s funny how life is described as a simple circle, when really, it’s more like a complex maze. From the second someone is born, challenges take place that impact the way life turns out. Everyone will take different turns, which will lead them down different paths. Some turns lead to dead ends. And those dead ends make the journey more challenging by forcing new beginnings. Not everyone realizes how precious life is, but when these new beginnings occur, and the journey through the maze is completed, life is so much more rewarding.

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