By Kailen Harding

Hi! My name is Kailen. I am 13.

I was born with transposition of the great arteries. I had my first surgery at two days old, and my second full open-heart surgery at two weeks old. Recently, I got a pacemaker.

I live a fairly active life, and I am able to participate in basically everything. I take medication once a day, at night.

My family and I have been a part of the Children’s Heart Network ever since I can remember. We’ve been to many CHN events, from the Christmas party to Critter Cove.

I am a typical active and lazy teenager who enjoys playing video games, making YouTube videos (@KailenRH), and playing hockey.

I have been playing hockey forever, and for the last four seasons, I’ve been playing goalie. This September, I started to feel more tired during high-exertion periods, so I had to wear a heart monitor for 24 hours during hockey season.

The doctors also had me do a stress test earlier than scheduled. At first, they weren’t sure about the results, so they asked for another stress test. After the second one, they realized I probably should get a pacemaker. When the doctors told me this, I was a little scared and unsure, but they explained it more, and it made perfect sense.

They said there was a lot of scar tissue on my heart, which meant not all the signals were getting through. The pacemaker would help with this and would listen to both sides of my heart. If one side wasn’t getting the signal, the pacemaker would step in.

I was scheduled to have my pacemaker put in at the beginning of April. But they were able to bump me up to an earlier slot because they had cancelled all elective surgeries due to COVID-19. My surgery had to do with the heart, so they wanted me to come in earlier. I was glad. Going to the BC Children’s Hospital (BCCH) wasn’t much different during COVID-19, except only one parent was allowed in the pre-op room until after the surgery.

The surgery went as planned. They decided during the surgery to put the pacemaker in my abdomen. When I went to my room after surgery, it was nice and spacious. The television was in the perfect spot, and the bed was very comfortable. I also received a DM video on Instagram from Jacob Markström, the Vancouver Canucks goalie, wishing me a good recovery. That was epic!

I recommend the freezies and ice cream that you can get from the ward’s kitchen. My back was kind of sore after the surgery, but after some time, it got better. We stayed one night in the hospital and then I was able to come home.

In my first week of being home, I watched a lot of TV. It kind of hurt to talk, sneeze, yawn, and laugh, but it got a lot better over time.

A typical day of recovering from surgery in COVID-19 isolation looks like this: I wake up, play video games, do online school, exercise, eat dinner with my family, and hang out.

After one week of being at home, we went for a check-up. During this appointment, they checked if my pacemaker was working by putting a magnet on top of it and then making my heart rate go up and down. It felt odd, like someone was controlling my heart.

After six weeks, I was able to do everything I could do before the surgery. At my next follow-up appointment, I will be doing a stress test, an ECG, an ECHO, and the pacemaker check.

I am glad that I got the surgery when I did, and I am looking forward to returning to sports.

I started going to Hearts of Gold (HOG) events this year, including laser tag and the Old Spaghetti Factory, and ice skating followed by Red Robin. At these events, I enjoyed the group of people, and it was fun to do the activities.

Since COVID-19, we have been meeting on Zoom, and that has also been a fun experience. During our Zoom meetings, we had a talent show and did camp stuff like making s’mores and candy bracelets. I like being a part of this group, because they are cool to hang out with and they all have similar stories.

It wasn’t that big of a deal to get a pacemaker. I recommend cream soda Slurpees after appointments at BCCH and freezies after your surgery.

I would like to send a special thanks to the doctors and nurses who worked with me at BCCH. I hope everyone is staying safe and healthy during COVID-19.

“Kailen’s Heart Story” is from our summer 2020 newsletter, Heart Matters. See our Newsletters page for more stories and to subscribe.