By Craig Perkins
When she was just 30 years old, my wife Kelly Perkins’ life as she knew it came to an abrupt stop with her hospitalization and diagnosis of virally induced idiopathic cardiomyopathy.
What started off as a simple virus turned critical as the infection attacked her heart. After an intense three-year life or death struggle, her heart lost its battle with congestive heart failure. On November 20, 1995, at 34 years old, Kelly underwent a heart transplant surgery, which also required a blood transfusion.
This life changing event didn’t hold her back. Kelly and I went on to climb mountains around the world to inspire others and champion organ and blood donation. She became the first-ever heart transplant recipient to scale some of the most iconic peaks, including Africa’s Mt. Kilimanjaro, Switzerland’s Matterhorn, and the faces of El Capitan and Half Dome in Yosemite, just to name a few.
With the goal of raising awareness of organ, tissue and blood donation, she also founded The Kelly Perkins Moving Hearts Foundation, and is the author of “The Climb of My Life.” Kelly has also had the opportunity to speak at conferences, sharing her accomplishments and giving testimony to the success of medical professionals who worked tirelessly to make giant steps towards survival and a promising future for transplant patients like her.
In addition to her work as a realtor, Kelly also looks for ways to raise awareness in her community by hosting blood drives. Recently, her blood drive in Laguna Beach collected 22 donations, and she is already planning for a future blood drive.
Never a day goes by without deep gratitude for her organ donor. Kelly shares that she lives each day to make sure she is “worthy” of the gift of her heart, as it could have gone to someone else.
“I carry her with me and with that comes a big responsibility. There is no payback to a donor or their family, so the only way is to pay it forward by promoting organ, tissue, and blood donation,” said Kelly.
We reflect that she would not be here today without her donor heart, and as important, donor blood. Had the blood not been available, it would have been two lives lost, the donor heart and Kelly! That pretty much sums up the importance of blood donation. It can be and often is the difference between life and death.