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Heart transplant survivor runs half-marathon with her team of doctors

Kristin Marx
Kristin Marx

(MILWAUKEE) — Kristin Marx finished the Milwaukee Half-Marathon Sunday, surrounded by family, friends and her cardiac-care team.

It was a huge accomplishment for Marx, 37, who said she’d come up with the “crazy idea” with her sister-in-law one day in July.

“We thought, ‘Hey, wouldn’t it be fun to do a half-marathon.’ It was kind of in a joking way and I wasn’t sure if I wanted to commit to it because I have never run a half-marathon in my life,” Marx said.

It was also a huge deal because more than 16 years ago, Marx had been diagnosed with cardiomyopathy and was in and out of the hospital in Wisconsin, desperately awaiting a heart transplant.

In 2000, Marx was a healthy, 20-year-old college sophomore at the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee.

Then, she got very sick. Marx thought she’d come down with a cold. A chest X-ray later revealed that she had an enlarged heart.

“Right away that night, I was admitted to the hospital,” she said. “In my 20 years of life, that was the first time I was ever in the hospital. I never had a surgery, a broken bone, nothing in my life, until that very moment. It was my first hospital stay and it was terrifying. At the doctor’s office, they told me that I would need a heart transplant.”

For the next 10 months, Marx said, she was in and out of the hospital, as she awaited a new heart.

“I had to take a leave of absence from school,” she said. “I literally couldn’t walk 10 feet without having to stop and rest.”

In January 2001, she received her new heart. She said her donor’s name was Mindy. Eventually, Marx’s good health returned. She returned to college in August of that year and finished her schooling. And, she got married and traveled.

Since her transplant, Marx said, she has remained a very active person.

“I felt like running a half-marathon would be a great way to honor my donor because I have been taking such good care of myself and the doctors have been taking such good care of me. … This would be a great way to honor her by how strong my heart is — our heart, I guess! And what better way to do that then run a half-marathon,” Marx said.

Before she could run, Marx got medical approval from her doctors at Froedtert and the Medical College of Wisconsin. The staffers were supportive and encouraged her to run. Some of her doctors even decided to join her.

“When you come across a person like Kristin, who is post-transplant and trying to do half-marathons, you’re, like, all of the sudden, looking in the mirror at yourself and saying ‘OK. Where are you, mister?’ … I decided, ‘OK, this is a good chance to run alongside her and start taking better care of myself,’ and I only have Kristin to thank for this,” said Dr. Asim Mohammed, who ran as well and was right beside her at the finish line.

Marx’s time: 3 hours, 1 minute.

Not a day goes by that Marx doesn’t think about her donor family or about Mindy, she said.

“Everything I do is with purpose and to give thanks to them for letting me live my life. … Every Thanksgiving, people talk about how grateful they are,” Marx said. “That’s my every day.”

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