Skip to main content

Kay: Transplant Allows Mission Work to Continue in Africa

Kay and her husband, Murray, began their mission work in Africa in the 1970’s, starting a nonprofit organization to help orphans live a better life. Eventually they moved to the continent in the late 1980’s where the couple built and established schools for children in Uganda, Kenya, Rwanda and Burundi. They also provided clean drinking water and operated mobile medical clinics in remote villages that were ravaged by rebel activity to provide treatments, medications and even surgeries to anyone in need.

But, by 2010, the couple returned to southeastern Wisconsin and noticed that Kay was having a hard time breathing. She visited her primary care physician and a cardiologist who diagnosed her with congestive heart failure. With the left side of her heart damaged and only 10% of her heart pumping, Kay was forced to stop working—both here in the U.S. and in Africa. Medicine helped her for five years but in 2015, after routine bouts of fainting, Kay had a defibrillator and pacemaker implanted and was referred to a local transplant program for further care.

Heart Transplant Candidacy and Urgency

After transplant cardiologists reviewed Kay’s medical history and ran blood tests, they concluded that Kay was a candidate for a heart transplant. She was placed on the waiting list and given new medications to regulate her blood pressure and to keep her in stable condition at home which worked well for two years.

Then, in early February 2017, the medications weren’t enough. Kay fainted at home.

“I actually died,” Kay said. “My heart stopped. My daughter noticed my eyes roll back in my head and I had no pulse. My body shook from the defibrillator trying to bring me back to life and thankfully it did.”

Kay was taken to a local hospital and admitted to the intensive care unit. Her doctors moved her near the top of the heart transplant waiting list and told her that the hospital was her home until they could find her a new heart. They also told Kay and her family that this home could be her last if they were unable to find a heart soon.

Kay with grandkids in Uganda

Lovely Day for a Heart Transplant

After 10 days in the ICU, Kay and Murray received good news. Her medical team informed them that a matching heart was found. She graciously accepted the heart and went into surgery that night — symbolically it was Valentine’s Day 2017.

Kay’s surgery went well and she spent about two months in the hospital recovering where she needed to gain strength and learn how to live with her new heart. Once at home, Kay’s family and friends helped her recover further and she returned to the hospital routinely for follow-up care.

Post-Transplant Life and Gratitude

With her new heart and knowledge from her doctors on how to protect it, Kay was able to return to Africa in November 2018 to meet her four new grandchildren! She was also able to share her story to communities that she helped build before she left for her heart care.

“I owe my life to the doctors, nurses and staff,” Kay said. “Before I went home, the nurses and assistants told me that I’ll be part of their family for the rest of my life and that they are here to take care of me. It touched my heart to know they will always be there for me.”