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The Climb of Her Life

In honor of American Heart Month, read how Kelly Perkins was climbing peaks again just 10 months after her heart transplant.

Inspiring story of hope after heart transplant

Kelly Perkins never met a mountain she didn’t want to climb. Among the peaks she and her husband, Craig, have conquered: Yosemite National Park’s El Capitan, Mount Fuji, Mount Kilimanjaro, the Matterhorn and the never-before-scaled Reflection Mountain in Argentina. The amazing thing is Kelly reached all those summits with a transplanted heart.

Always healthy and active, Kelly, then 30, started having heart palpitations in 1992, after she and Craig returned from a backpacking trip to celebrate their five-year anniversary. Doctors discovered a virus was attacking her heart. “We were going to start to build a family, to build a life,” Kelly recalls, but the virus quickly turned her into an invalid. For the next four years she was in and out of hospitals and eventually developed congestive heart failure. At the eleventh hour, Kelly received a heart transplant. But her body rejected the donor organ, which meant months of debilitating drug therapies.

Finally Kelly’s body accepted the new heart, and she accepted that life was hers again. Next step? Summit 9,000-foot Half Dome in Yosemite, a mere 10 months after the transplant. “I went from being healthy and strong, to family and friends always asking, ‘How are you feeling?'” Kelly says. “I wanted to change the way people saw me.” When the media covered the climb, Craig and Kelly realized that they could use their passion and drive to promote organ donation.

A year later the pair climbed California’s tallest peak, Mt. Whitney. They received emails from all over the world. “We saw we could have a positive impact with anyone who was suffering from illness,” says Kelly. “We were fueling hope in people with cancer. We all have people who give us the nudge, and to be able to be that person for others is not something you can turn off.”

So they kept climbing. Kelly wrote The Climb of My Life and with Craig, invented and launched a product—a water bottle that monitors your intake. What does Craig say about this journey of peaks and valleys? “The reality is people stop too soon,” he says. “You hit a speed bump, you reflect on it as a speed bump and not the mountain. Don’t let the speed bumps deter you.” Great advice for making the most out of life!

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