Imagine being diagnosed with a disease in which you are told that your only hope of survival is an organ transplant. That feeling of knowing there is nothing in your power that can be done and the conflicting feeling of knowing that someone else must die in order for you to live. This was the case for Kristy Thakeray, but her story would not only consist of a miracle for her, but the same miracle needed for someone very close to her.
In 1996, fourteen year old Kristy Thakeray was diagnosed with restrictive cardiomyopathy, a rare condition of the heart where the muscle surrounding the heart becomes stiff and restricts the heart from expanding fully to let enough blood into it’s chambers. This young Medicine Hat girl now knew that her life would be forever changed and would live no ordinary teenage girl life.
Upon her diagnosis the long road for a heart transplant began. Not only was Kristy in the fight of her life, there was an added battle going on with the Provincial Government. “By the time I was diagnosed, restrictive cardiomyopathy was really really rare, it had been almost a year since I first got sick and back then the stats were 9 out of 10 kids would die within a year of diagnosis. We began the whole work up for transplant in Edmonton and I was put on the list in January 1996. Throughout that time, my parents were battling the Provincial Government to allow me to be double listed – in Alberta and in the US to increase my chances of getting a new heart. The issue was with being listed on an out of Province list is that if the service you need is available in your province, they wont pay for you to get the service somewhere else. So my parents were trying to fight the government to allow me to be on both lists. Back then, organs weren’t transplanted out of their centers and are not used in cross border situations like they are today. So my parents fought and won the appeal to double list’, explained Thakeray.
Around that same time, Thakeray was granted a wish through the Children’s Wish Foundation. Her wish was to meet county music icon, Reba McIntyre. “We hopped on a plane on May 25th and arrive in Texas. We get out of the airport and just get into the rental car and the pager goes off. We had made arrangements with Edmonton before leaving to test the pager before we left and we weren’t sure if the pager was going off for a test or would even work – but the pager is beeping. My mom is driving, I’m in the back seat, we’re in Texas and really have no idea where we are … and now the pager is going off. So we flipped a u-turn, find a pay phone at a Taco Bell and my mom gets out and calls Edmonton. My brother goes over to where my mom is on the phone and then he walks back to me in the car and says ‘hey Kris, you got your heart’. So now, we gotta get back to Edmonton”, says a still emotional Thackeray.
Despite a donor heart being found and hustling back to Edmonton, the family still didn’t know if this was actually going to be the miracle they had waited so long for. But on May 26th, 1996 Kristy received the amazing gift of a new heart – miraculously on the birthdate of the young woman who lost her life and was then the donor, Dawn Marie Tremblay.
Thackeray’s surgery went very well, some intense follow up after the surgery and then back to Medicine Hat to carry on, as best one does after going through something like that, the life of a teenage girl.
“I slowly got back into the swing of things, school and check ups back in Edmonton which went from every two weeks, to monthly to every six months and then once a year. The media in Medicine Hat would do the odd story on me when an anniversary would come around but that sort of stopped too. Until 2001 when I got pregnant”, explains Thackeray.
Thackeray explains that the pregnancy was unplanned and was not something that was even medically possible. Thackeray even states that she went as far as booking an abortion appointment, but when she went for an ultrasound days before the appointment and learned that she was having twins, she forgot all about that appointment.
“I believe I am the first transplant recipient in North America to give birth to twins, but some people have said I’m the first in the world – but I’m not sure”, says Thackeray.
So this young single mom, with the help of her parents, took on the task of raising these beautiful twin baby girls – Shaylynn and McKayla. Both babies were followed closely and had heart echoes done as it was unknown if there was a genetic component to restrictive cardiomyopathy. But what happened next, no one expected.
“In September 2003, both girls had echoes done and they were both perfect. Then in November, I took Shaylynn to day home and she just started throwing up uncontrollably. We went to Emergency but she was fine by then. The next day she was fine. The next day we were back to throwing up again so I took her to the Alberta Children’s Hospital. Two days later….we were going for transplant work up”, explained Thackeray. On January 23, 2004, an unknown hero was the donor of a heart for young Shaylynn – who is now a vibrant fourteen year old, twelve years post transplant.
Thackeray has written a book of this remarkable journey entitled “Transplanting Hope: My life – Someone Else’s Heart” and is holding a book signing at the Chestermere Best Western on June 25th from 1pm – 4pm.
Thackeray writes the dedication in the book saying, “We would like to thank all donor families who have saved countless lives with their generosity. This book is also dedicated to every individual who is on the transplant list and waiting”.