“I had no idea how important the role of blood is in performing surgery on such a young child.” —Kelly King, mother of Kendall

Within minutes of Kendall’s birth, she was blue in the face. “That was our first indication that something was wrong,” said Kelly, her mother.

Kendall was rushed by ambulance to Children’s Hospitals in Minneapolis, where she was diagnosed with tetralogy of Fallot with pulmonary atresia—otherwise known as a congenital heart defect.

Kendall’s first heart surgery was rocky. She survived, but “coded” afterward—meaning her heart stopped, and doctors had to reopen her chest to pump her heart by hand. After the surgery, in order to let her heart heal, her chest had to remain open for an entire week. “During that time, we saw how fragile her life was,” said Kelly. “All we could do was pray.” Kendall received several units of blood during her surgery. Seven weeks later, she went home for the first time.

Babies born with congenital heart defects face an uphill battle for their first several years. The conduits that doctors use to replace their pulmonary arteries don’t last, which means that future heart surgeries are guaranteed. To date, Kendall has had 5 surgeries.

“Surgeries two through four were pretty routine—at least, as far as heart surgeries go,” Kelly joked. But her fifth and most recent surgery proved to be a harrowing experience for everyone involved. 

In May of 2017, Kendall headed back to Children’s in order to undergo a process that would give her a new pulmonary artery conduit. “We thought she’d have the surgery, be in the hospital for 10 or so days, and head home,” Kelly said. “But as soon as the surgery was done, I could tell something was wrong. This surgery was not like the others.” 

Kendall, a vivacious 12-year-old, kept getting sicker and sicker. While still in the hospital, she developed a staph infection throughout her entire body, and was put in a medically induced coma for a total of 60 days. On top of her infection, Kendall was having trouble breathing. 

After much deliberation, Kelly, her family, and Kendall’s doctors decided to have a tracheostomy performed, which let Kendall breathe through an opening in her throat. “That was a hard decision to make,” Kelly said. “We had to make the decision to have her trach put in while she was in her coma, so we couldn’t ask her permission or tell her what was happening.”

But the “trach” did the trick. The procedure allowed her doctors to determine what was complicating her recovery. After a second surgery, Kendall was on a slow road to recovery. 

“She was such a trooper,” Kelly said. “She didn’t complain once.”

During each of her surgeries, Kendall received life-saving blood that allowed doctors to perform the procedures that help Kendall face each new day with energy and love. “I had no idea how important the role of blood is in performing surgery on such a young child,” said Kelly. Kendall will continue to need surgery as she grows older, but the help she’s had from her community, her family, and the medical professionals at nearby hospitals give her a significant leg up on her hurdles. 

“Our experience has shown us what’s really important,” Kelly said. “People get stressed out about such small things—I feel empowered by our journey, and I want to share what we’ve found. I feel positivity and joy every day.”