Beautiful Women - Kristin Millar
Written by Holli Moncrieff
For the ἀrst time in ten years, Kristin Millar has a future. It’s hard to believe that just two months ago, the 28 year-old was waiting for a heart transplant.
“When they put the heart inside me, it started beating on its own, which is really rare,” she says. “At ἀrst I couldn’t sleep because my heart was too loud — that’s a pretty amazing problem to have.”
It all started with a stomachache. In December 2009, Millar battled what she thought was a persistent Ḁu, visiting several doctors and emergency rooms. She was in triage when her pacemaker went off for the very ἀrst time. The pacemaker was implanted as a safety precaution when she was diagnosed with a thickening of the heart wall at age 18.
“They ἀnally looked at my heart, and it had almost completely failed — it was functioning at six per cent, and my other organs were failing. I was dying before their eyes,” she says.
After emergency surgery, a ventricular-assist device (VAD) kept Millar’s heart pumping. She carried the battery pack in her purse, sewed zippers into all of her dresses, and joked that she “wasn’t sick, only accessorized.” Millar visited schools to speak about organ donation. Before long, she was using her theatre talents to be the star of the Children’s Hospital’s in-circuit television program.
“Kids are really perceptive, and they have no censor at all. I’ve been asked if I actually plugged into the wall,” Millar laughs. “I’m pretty open, and I’ll talk about everything. I joked that I was a vampire, because with the VAD, I didn’t have a pulse. It was a neat party trick.”
Millar uses her sense of humour and her natural stubbornness to get past any obstacle.
“I was on a form of life support, but I made a point of not waiting by the phone. I lived a full life. I tried to convince them to let me do a half-marathon with the VAD,” she says. “Thankfully, I have a very supportive family who never treated me like a sick person, they believed in me.”
She says facing a life-threatening illness has changed her for the better.
“Some people can’t accept that heart failure was a good experience for me, and that I’m grateful for it,” she says. “I’m more peaceful, more caring, more kind. Before I went into heart failure, I wouldn’t have called myself an over-optimistic person.”
Millar started dating her boyfriend two months before her transplant, which she jokes was a “trial by ἀre.” Unable to wait in Winnipeg, he Ḁew to Ottawa where she was in recovery.
“I used to not want anyone to see me looking weak or vulnerable, and having a breathing tube is not pretty,” she says. “But from the ἀrst moment I saw him, with his huge smile, I have never felt more beautiful.”
She continues to speak at schools and tell her story in the hopes that more people will talk to their families about organ donation.
“I hope my story will get people to think about it. One person can save seven people like me. Lack of awareness is our greatest struggle, and there’s got to be some reason I’m still here.”
Life holds no end of marvels for Millar, and many of them are what most of us take for granted – anything from a hot shower to a good meal is so appreciated.
“I wake up grateful everyday. I was dancing three weeks after the transplant,” she says. “This heart loves to dance.