After a decade of heart complications, an Indiana Black woman is celebrating after successfully finding a donor and undergoing a transplant.
Jaelyn Kinchelow, now 24, recently received a new heart after suffering a cardiac arrest at age 14. Kinchelow told Good Morning America that she's sharing her story to spotlight organ donation and the disproportionate risk of heart disease among women.
At 14-years-old, Kinchelow had to have open-heart surgery after experiencing chest tightness during middle school track practice.
Kinchelow said, "All I could remember was myself slowing down because I just couldn't keep up. The Indiana native added, "Shortly after that, my legs gave out and I fell to the ground."
Doctors repaired torn arteries from Kinchelow's heart attack, but permanent damage remained. Post-surgery, the then-young teenager had to endure a month in the hospital, and eight of those days she was in a coma.
"After surgery, my heart was only functioning at about 5%. They put me on an ECMO machine," Kinchelow said. "They didn't think I was going to make it so they had to do all they could to keep me alive."
Kinchelow was able to graduate high school and college with a bachelor's degree, but her plans for nursing school were cut short when she again faced heart complications.
"I couldn't do my daily activities. I was too tired to talk upstairs," Kinchelow said. "I went to the hospital and spent three weeks in the hospital in January and they decided I needed to be on the transplant list."
In January, the now-24-year-old began her wait for the right heart at Riley Hospital for Children in Indianapolis.
Kinchelow said, "The call is the thing you look forward to when you're waiting. You just never know when it's going to come." She added, "They were saying that with my blood type, it's like one of the longest waits. That was one of the things I was just scared of."
After more than two months, a match was found, and Kinchelow was finally able to undergo a heart transplant. Doctors said Kinchelow's heart was so enlarged it took over six hours to remove it in surgery.
Her doctor, Robert K. Darragh, said, "Her story is pretty unique." Darragh added, "There are some questions medically that we still don't have perfect answers for her about how she got to the point of needing a transplant."
Heart disease is the leading cause of death for Black woman in the U.S. Across the nation, over 100,000 people are on the transplant list waiting for a desperately-needed match, according to the Department of Health and Human Services.
Kinchelow said, "If more people were donors, there wouldn't be a waiting list, and some people don't make it because there aren't enough donors. I want to put it out there, just think about it and do your research."
Now able to complete nursing school she added, "I would say to anybody, don't take your health lightly." Kinchelow continued, "Although I was 14, I knew something was not right. It's important to pay attention to anything that feels different."