Hi everybody and welcome to RESILIENT PEOPLE. Today I’m joined by Dana Kyminas from Peabody, Massachusetts.
Dana reached out to me to share the story of her husband George who passed away of congenital heart failure, a condition he had since birth.
George was given a couple of years to live, but defied the odds and continued to defy them until he passed at only 27 years of age.
Dana shared their story, his resilience in living with a heart defect and how she continues to honour his legacy.
RESILIENT PEOPLE: How did you and George meet?
DANA KYMINAS: I was a freshman and George was a junior in high school. I didn’t want to take gym and he couldn’t so we met in the Reserve Officers’ Training Corp program.
George made you smile no matter how bad your day was. You’d never know that he had a heart condition. When he told me about it I didn’t quite understand it. When he was 12 he had 2 valves replaced along with a pacemaker put in. They gave him a 20% chance of survival.
In high school his pacemaker was replaced and he always seemed to be fine. He developed endocarditis which eats away at your valves, as well as pulmonary hypertension where he couldn’t walk long distances but his doctors kept track of his condition to make sure he was okay.
We got married ten years later and I joked that we should have put ‘its about time’ on the invitation. About a year later we decided to try to have a family. We were told by doctors to go ahead because they didn’t feel anything major would happen within the next 5 years.
In November 2013, we found out we were pregnant and the following January his health condition declined rapidly. Till February he was in the hospital for a month. Tests were done to assess the chances of getting a heart transplant but because of all of the scar tissue from previous surgeries he was not put on a list. Instead he went on hospice care.
On April 17, 2014 George peacefully passed away.
Tell me about the award in his honor.
The award is given to fifth graders who write an essay on strength and perseverance. They either need to know someone or have gone through something themselves that is bad and kept a positive attitude. For example, one child wrote about being in foster care and meeting their adoptive family. Or a boy wrote about his twin brother who had a heart condition and how he made it through.
You think that you’re the only one going through a hard time but you’re not alone. Sometimes the happiest people you meet are the ones going through the hardest times.
I’ve always loved the saying, “Life is 10% what’s given to you and 90% what you do with it.” I lost my husband when I was 27 weeks pregnant and my daughter arrived a month early, spending time in special care nursery. Now she’s healthy and we’re doing okay. You can be in any situation and come out of it.
How was the award established?
A friend of his mother’s set it up. She wanted to do something to honour him so we had a plaque designed with a photo of George as a kid and also as an adult. The winner gets their name engraved on it and the top 3 winners get a gift card to the local book store.
The essay is optional because not every kid wants to write it. These are 10 and 11 year olds. Many children will read their essay aloud but many times they want us to read it. It’s hard for us because we need that box of tissues.
Kids will go up to the winner afterwards and say that they went through that same thing too. It’s nice to show them that they’re not the only one having a hard day. It might be about a dog passing away or a brother’s heart surgeries but its understanding what strength and perseverance means.
What does that award do for you?
It doesn’t matter how old you are or what you look like on the outside, everyone can have a hard day or life. It could be the happiest person but you’d never know it. Like George, people were shocked that he even had a condition. It shows that you never know what someone’s going through.
Where does your strength come from?
Most of my strength was trying to make it for my daughter. I did it for her and not me. The hospital sent bereavement information to me and recommended a place close to me for grief counselling. They had a young widow’s meeting group and I got to meet people with shared experiences. I met 3 ladies who I still talk to and see to this day. It’s nice knowing someone who has gone through the same thing.
One woman is the same age as me and her husband died in a freak accident. My daughter is now 5 and said, “I want you to have another baby.” I can ask my friend what she’s told her daughter in that same situation. It’s great to connect with her.
You need those blocks beneath you for stability. Community.
Yes. When George passed away I worked in a hospital’s OR where he had also once worked. They knew him and were almost like family. If they saw me crying they’d give me a hug and understand.
How is life for you and Leila today?
I went back to school and got my associates in accounting. We’re doing good. Emotionally I have my days. I have her 24/7 and don’t have someone to pass her to so that can be a little hard. I’m learning and she’s learning.
Do you have a message for others?
Try and stay happy. If someone’s having a bad day, give them a chance. You never know what the reason is. Give one little smile and you’ve made someone’s day.
Thank you, Dana.
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