Heart recipient wins at national games

Her medals are cherished, but she most admires the contestants who endured

Kally Heslop likes to win.

An avid athlete, it was her competitive spirit that helped her face and conquer her greatest challenge. In 1989, after a series of heart attacks, she underwent an operation for a heart transplant. She was 29."I had four children and a husband who I wanted to live a full life with," Sister Heslop told the Church News. "I knew if I was going to live and be happy, I had to be the person I was before."

This determination led her to conquer the fears those recovering from organ transplants often suffer in resuming active life styles. It also resulted in her winning a silver and two bronze medals in the 1990 Transplant Games in Indianapolis, Ind., early in October. The event allows transplant recipients to compete athletically and to be with people who are in the same circumstances. The Intermountain Organ Recovery Services sponsored two people from Utah, one being Sister Heslop.

"I love competition and I'm very competitive," she said. "The games gave me the chance to compete again and to be with people on my own level."

Sister Heslop's coronary trauma surprised not only her, but also her doctors because of her age and physical stamina prior to the heart attacks. Originally from Kaysville, Utah, her family moved when she was 9 to Rancho Cucamonga, Calif., where she lettered in field hockey, swimming, softball and volleyball at Alta Loma High School. She was also head cheerleader during her junior year.

Her family returned to Kaysville for her senior year, and she later married Mark Heslop. She continued participating in various sports and took up golf as she and her husband began raising their family, which now includes, Miquel, 11; Tyler, 8; Cassidy, 5; and Lindsey, 2.

A member of the Kaysville 1st Ward, Kaysville Utah Stake, Sister Heslop was ward Young Women president.

Then on Aug. 16, 1988, while on vacation in St. George, Utah, the first heart attack struck. Within a week, she had a second heart attack while in the University of Utah Medical Center coronary care unit. It was discovered that the birth of her last child about a month earlier caused hormonal changes in her body. This resulted in the left coronary artery leading to the heart to become thin and tear.

Sister Heslop returned home a short while after the second attack and tried to "get on with life," but she returned to the hospital on Jan. 1, 1989, and again in February complaining she didn't feel well and had difficulty breathing.

It was during the February trip to the hospital that cardiologists determined that her heart, liver and kidneys were failing and a heart transplant was necessary to save her life. However, her critical condition and the absence of an appropriate donor delayed the surgery.

Family and friends began a special fast. It was at that point Sister Heslop placed her life in the Lord's hands. "Within a few hours of that, my condition turned around," she explained.

Those on lists for organ transplants sometimes wait months for a donor, Sister Heslop explained, but she only had to wait four days. At noon on Feb. 9, 1989, she went into surgery to get her new heart.

Later, her parents told to her that as family members and friends waited, those bringing the new heart to the hospital arrived. Sister Heslop's loved ones "watched them come down the hall with the cooler [which contained the heart] in their hands and they knew my life was in their hands. They described it as a very bittersweet moment because while that heart was saving my life another life had ended."

Sister Heslop's recovery was long and arduous. During the four months it took to get back on her feet, she had three rejection episodes that landed her back in the hospital.

"It was like I would get up and going again and `boom,' I'd get knocked back down," she said.

Sister Heslop had to take 12 to 13 medications twice daily, resulting in weakened legs and a bloated face. After about a month in a wheelchair, she began using a cane and regaining her strength by working out in the rehabilitation unit three days a week.

In June 1989, she played in her first golf tournament since the transplant operation. Along with priesthood blessings she received, Sister Heslop attributes her victory over the pain and fear to "a determination to not let this change my life – maybe temporarily, but not let it have a permanent effect on my life."

This past summer, Sister Heslop saw an opportunity her competitive spirit couldn't resist. She learned about the U.S. Transplant Games.

Participating with close to 400 people in the four-day event, she won a silver medal for golf and two bronze medals in the 50-meter breaststroke and the 50-meter backstroke swimming events.

"Winning the medals was great and that will always mean a lot to me because I had to work for them," she said. But she added that the highlight of the games came on the first day of the swimming competition.

She described a race where everyone had finished but two people. "They were exhausted and had to grab on to the side rails and rest, then swim some more and grab hold again and they finally finished the race," she said. "Everybody in the crowd just cheered when they finished. They're the people who earned the medals, because they endured to the end and finished."

Today at age 31, Sister Heslop enjoys being with her children and husband. She also counsels others waiting for transplants. On Oct. 26, she received a pacemaker to help regulate her heart rate according to the level of activity in which she engages.

Mark Heslop expressed pleasure for his wife's accomplishments and determination. "For a long time, I took her for granted. I think we had fallen into a rut," he recalled. "After this, I learned the way we grow is by going through trials like this."