A heart warming story for American Heart Month

Lola Karol and her husband Mitch, Kennedy, Minn., celebrated the 5 year anniversary of Lola’s heart transplant in January. During American Heart Month, they are grateful to the organ donor who gave Lola a healthy heart.
(Enterprise Photo by Linda Andersen)

By Linda Andersen
     President Trump recently declared February American Heart Month. It’s something presidents have been doing ever since President Lyndon Johnson declared the first American Heart Month in 1964. Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States and the purpose of the annual observance is to raise awareness of heart health.
     One Kittson County woman, Lola Karol of Kennedy, is especially appreciative of a healthy heart. For years she suffered with a condition called ARVD (Arrhythmogenic Right Ventricular Dysplasia), a rare condition in which the heart muscle of the right ventricle is replaced by fat and/or fibrous tissue. As a result, the ability of her heart to pump blood was weakened. A heart transplant on Jan. 20, 2013 gave her a new lease on life. That was five years ago and as Mitch, her husband of 37 years explains, “It’s gone so well for us. Not everyone is so lucky.”
     “I had to quit my day care of 21 years,” says Lola remembering back to the early days of her illness when she was very tired and “couldn’t do much of anything.”
Doctors treated Lola with various procedures and medicines, all of which were only short term solutions. Three times they did a procedure, called ablation, in which they “zapped nerves in the heart.”
     They implanted a device in her arm that delivered medicine to her heart 24 hours a day.
They implanted a defribulator/pacemaker. Lola’s heart would race, the defribulator would go off, and she would need to call for an ambulance. Ten times she experienced such ambulance trips to the hospital.
     The Karols credit their three grown daughters and 11 grandchildren with providing them with the motivation to keep going through those tough years.
Lola was getting weaker and after years of struggle with her heart condition, it’s no wonder the Karols felt more relief than fear that wintry night when the Mayo Clinic called to say that a donor heart was available. “It was stormy and they called me at 6:30 p.m.,” Lola remembers.
     Time was of the essence; they had four hours to get to Rochester. Due to the weather, a medical team from Rochester met them at Grand Forks with a little plane. Mitch says it was so windy he didn’t know how the plane could fly. Perhaps the wind had a special purpose that evening. When they arrived in Rochester at about 10:10 p.m., the pilot said the plane had never flown so fast – the wind had helped push it along.
     Lola had surgery in the “wee hours of the morning” on Jan. 20.
     “I was so relaxed all the fears were erased,” Mitch says of how he felt at the time of the surgery.
     The surgery went well – Lola spent 10 days in the hospital and a total of three months in Rochester where she recuperated at the “Gift of Life.” The Karols explain that the “Gift of Life” offers affordable housing for patients who have undergone transplants. Mitch was able to stay and be her caregiver for the first month. After that, other relatives stayed with her.
They met people from “all over” at the “Gift of Life,” even some from far away locations who had been waiting for transplants for several years.
     Mitch turned to his hobby of hand whittling while in Rochester and says he has continued to spend time whittling and turning wood on a lathe since he got home. He has some impressive results to show for his efforts, including a shelf and a whittled snake which he has displayed on a diamond willow cross. He says he donates some of his work to benefits.
The Karols are grateful to a number of people and medical facilities for their support during Lola’s illness. “All the medical facilities worked well together,” they say, mentioning that they were served by facilities in Hallock, Grand Forks, and Rochester.
     They mention Dr. Mevan N. Wijetunga who, according to Mitch, deals with “electronics of the heart” and who diagnosed Lola with ARVD.
     Mitch appreciates his bosses and fellow employees at True North. He says his bosses allowed him to rush home at a moments notice when necessary and his fellow employees donated vacation time to him.
     “He spent a lot of vacation time on me,” says Lola, appreciatively referring to Mitch.
The Karols, of course, tremendously appreciate the “gracious gift of someone donating,” a “someone” whom they know nothing about. As a result of their experience they encourage others to be organ donors.
     “I appreciate everything I can do. I don’t sit very still,” says Lola.
     The contrast between Lola’s health before and after the surgery was made very clear as they remembered the difference between the experience of Christmas shopping in 2012 and 2013. Of 2012, Mitch says, “I’ll never forget Christmas shopping – I didn’t know if she’d make it.”
     Lola describes Christmas shopping in 2013 by saying, “He had a hard time keeping up with me.”
     During this American Health Month, appreciate a strong heart and learn what you can do to  keep a healthy heart.

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