December 12, 2023
If you ask Michelle Keyes about her outlook on life, she will tell you, “The best day is waking up each day.” She has faced enormous challenges overcoming heart failure. Her journey began 21 years ago when she was pregnant with her third child.
Michelle’s daughter was born healthy, but there were flags about Michelle’s health. She had three times the amount of amino fluid during the pregnancy. Then, after delivery, Michelle had a hard time getting back on her feet.
“I was in heart failure. They didn’t catch it at the hospital. I went to my primary care and she took one look at me and said, ‘Get a chest x-ray,’” Michelle recalled. Later, she would find out her condition was hereditary.
Doctors gave Michelle a pacemaker and medication to keep her going. But the meds stopped working, and Michelle ended up in the hospital on a double VAD. She had three young children under the age of 10 and now she had to live in the hospital for a year to survive. “My husband was a saint,” said Michelle. While in the hospital, her youngest turned four. Michelle said, “I really wanted to make it to her first day of kindergarten. That was my goal.” Her husband knew she needed to get out of the hospital and be with her kids.
Today, Michelle wants people to know that nurse Linda Ordway and Tufts Medical Center are what made her see the impossible as possible. She became the first patient on Massachusetts’ South Shore to go home with a double VAD. “When I came home with the VADs the kids would run upstairs and say, ‘Ha, ha, ha. You can’t catch me,’” said Michelle, chuckling.
Michelle experienced how challenging life with a double VAD is, a situation she describes as merely existing and not truly living. The presence of what she humorously refers to as her "four garden hoses" (LVAD drive lines) even prevented her from holding her children. This immensely difficult period reached a breaking point when Michelle, a woman of strong Catholic faith, faced the profound loss of her mother. In the midst of grieving, and only eight days after her mother's passing, Michelle decided to confront God about her own survival: "I asked God to make up His mind, and that’s the morning I got the call." That pivotal 3 a.m. phone call in 2008 changed everything. Since undergoing her heart transplant, Michelle reflects on her transformative journey, stating, "I feel amazing. I am very fortunate."
Michelle’s heart failure story began before the HeartBrothers was even formed. So she knows first-hand how overwhelming and isolating and petrifying it feels not knowing anyone else who has experienced heart failure and all that comes with it.
“I am always going to help others. I understand the hardship of people coming into the hospital. I like what [The HearBrothers] stand for. I like what they do,” said Michelle.
Traveling is what Michelle is looking forward to. Her children are now 27, 26, and 21. “Every day since my transplant has been a blessing. I got to see my children graduate high school, my two oldest graduate college, and my youngest is graduating college this year,” she said.
…And grandchildren? Michelle’s not ready for them just yet, but hopes she still has plenty of time for that to happen.