By Lauren Young
For most folks living The Sweat Life, hopping on a bike and getting their heart pumping is a healthy escape from their busy lives; for me, it is much more than that. More than being an invigorating workout, it is about the gift of life I am lucky to receive with each passing beat.
I was born with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, a condition where the walls of my heart were too large to properly function. I underwent open-heart surgery at age 13, and remained stable for many years afterward.
Though my heart prevented me from doing vigorous cardio, I remained very active. I worked out with a trainer, skied, and played tennis, but I could never run a mile and walking up hills was a frequent challenge (especially when I lived in San Francisco). My husband once had to carry me on his back through the end of a hike in Patagonia! Despite my limitations, my condition never precluded me from living a fulfilling life full of travel, education, family, friends, and work. I did not consider myself sick.
In 2013, about 9 months after getting married, I completely crashed. Within a few weeks of ending up in the hospital with a bout of heart failure, it became clear to my cardiologists that I was in immediate need of a heart transplant. Being told you need a new heart is always a daunting prognosis, and I was so sick, I was put near the top of the waitlist.
It is very difficult to estimate how long one might wait on a list — for many the wait is very long, and for too many, the wait is deadly.
New York has one of the lowest organ donation registration rates in the United States. My doctors predicted that I would need to wait several months for a heart in New York City. I was fortunate to be able to uproot our lives and travel cross-country, to be treated at Cedars Sinai in Los Angeles, where wait times were much lower.
My husband, Ward, and I landed in California on July 9th, checked into the hospital on the 10th, and officially registered for the transplant recipient list on July 12th. Then as I was going to bed on the 13th, my nurse came in and told me that a healthy heart was available from a 35-year old woman in Southern California. I was incredibly lucky to receive a heart so quickly. To this day, my doctors are not sure I had the ability to wait much longer.
As you might expect, the surgery itself was grueling, lasting 11 hours and taking a significant toll on my body (though I think Ward had it the worst). The first couple days after surgery were a haze of pain and recovery, but by the end of my first week, I started to feel amazing. I still remember going up my first set of stairs with a rehab nurse, tears streaming down my face as I realized how lucky I was to use this new heart.
An unfortunate fact of most organ donations is that a recipient’s blessing comes at great cost and sadness to the family of the donor. Though I have been unsuccessful in reaching my donor’s family, I hope they know that I, and potentially as many as eight other recipients of other organs, were saved by whatever tragedy must have occurred.
After some rest and recovery, I was ready to get back to normal life, only this time freed from the restrictions of heart disease. With those limitations behind me, I was determined to take amazing care of my new heart and to get in the best shape possible.
During our required three-month recovery in California, I tried running (something I had never really done before). I started doing Physique 57. I did a tennis clinic every day. Sometimes I would even join my husband for an evening workout if I was feeling up to it.
Cardio activity was my biggest challenge. My sickness made it risky for my heart rate to get too high — people who suffer from hypotonic cardiomyopathy risk sudden death syndrome from extreme cardio exertion. I needed to teach myself not to freak out when my new heart really got pumping. Getting used to the mechanics of heart rate increase is as much mental as it is physical. I was eager to overcome these obstacles and experience true cardiac exertion.
When we moved back to New York in the fall of 2013, I immediately tried my hand at something new: SoulCycle. I had always wanted to try it, but had been too nervous about my personal limitations to join such a group-based cardio activity. With my new heart, I was excited for the challenge (despite my deeply ingrained fears)… and it did not disappoint.
From the very first class, I was addicted. The atmosphere gives you an incredible high. It feels like a big dance party, which I love. I was lucky to find the best instructor, Julie Dermer. She has such an amazing spirit and energy and makes every class magical. The experience of SoulCycle is so distracting that I could begin to forget about my fear and just how fast my heart was racing. SoulCycle has truly changed my life, and I cherish those 45 mins each day to celebrate my new heart.
Heart & Soul Charity Ride
This Thursday July 28, I will be hosting a party — the Heart & Soul Charity Ride — in celebration of my third “new heart birthday” at SoulCycle E. 54th Street. We will be raising funds for organ donation awareness, with all proceeds going to ORGANIZE, a nonprofit dedicated to ending the unnecessarily long waitlist caused by low organ donation registration rates. While some 95% of people are in favor of organ donation, only 50% are registered donors. ORGANIZE is proliferating the first ever national organ donation registry, using social media to help spread declarations of new organ donors and alert family members of their loved ones’ intentions.
There are currently 120,000 people waiting on a life-saving organ, people limited both physically and emotionally. In the United States alone, 22 people die each day waiting for an organ that never surfaces. Much of this can be avoided through awareness of organ donation and facilitating easier registration.
Please help us continue to chip away at this gap and break down this artificial barrier preventing so many others from overcoming obstacles and living their own lives to the fullest.
Join the Heart & Soul Charity Ride THIS WEEK, Thursday July 28, at 8:30 pm, to support ORGANIZE and organ donation around the nation. Sign up here: www.heartsoulride.splashthat.com
Lauren Bouffard Young lives in NYC and works in private equity focusing in the TMT space. She attended Davidson College and received her MBA from Harvard Business school. She received a heart transplant three years ago, and has been rocking it on and off her SoulCycle (E. 54th!) bike ever since.
Find ORGANize at www.organize.org