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Heart transplant recipient is three times lucky receiving the gift of life

For double heart transplant recipient Katie Welsh, Mother’s Day is extra special. In addition to receiving the gift of life through organ donation two times, she also received the gift of life through the birth of her son.
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​On Mother’s Day, Katie Welsh and her family usually keep things simple. A homemade card from her son Charlie, maybe a walk at nearby Crescent Beach if the weather is good, and some time with her own mom. After all, the Surrey woman has already received the most incredible gifts, not once, or twice, but three times.

“How could I have so many miracles in my life? Someone has given me life with my first heart transplant, someone else has given me life with my second transplant, and someone has given me the gift of life with my child,” says Katie. “I don’t go to church but I believe in God, and I believe someone is watching out for me.”

Canada’s first pediatric heart transplant recipient
From a young age, Katie always knew she wanted to be a mom. In her teenage years and as a young adult, she loved being around kids. When she pictured her future, there were kids, but she had a complicated medical history.


When Katie was seven years old, a virus attacked her heart and the only option left was a heart transplant. At the time, there were no pediatric heart transplant programs in Canada so Katie and her parents ended up at the Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh. On June 11, 1987, Katie became Canada’s first pediatric heart transplant recipient.

Katie returned home to B.C., recovered well and continued on with life. She played sports, finished school, and went travelling.

A dream of motherhood
In her late 20s, she met her future husband Matt. That’s when she seriously wondered if pregnancy was possible. Soon after the couple married in 2009, they started talking about starting a family and Katie had initial discussions with her heart transplant team. The news wasn’t good.

“They told me I was at an extremely high risk of delivering prematurely because of all the blood pressure medications I take,” recalls Katie. “They felt it wouldn’t be safe for me and the baby. I went to more specialists at B.C. Women’s and at St. Paul’s to explore further, but they all advised me that it was very high risk and the chances of me carrying a baby to a safe term was highly unlikely. I was crushed, absolutely crushed.”
The couple tried to remain optimistic, and Matt was mostly concerned about Katie, wanting to make sure she would be ok. Usually happy-go-lucky, it was a really hard time for Katie. “I remember it was Easter morning and we were sipping our coffees. I thought to myself if you don’t have kids and it’s Easter morning, it just doesn’t feel complete. I can’t wake up on holidays and not have a family to share that with.”


But then a second miracle. A friend and colleague at the dentist office where Katie worked stepped forward as a surrogate for Katie and Matt.

In May 2012, Katie held her son for the first time, minutes after he was born. “It felt amazing. Richmond Hospital gave Matt and I our own room and Barb [her surrogate] had her own room to recover. I got into the bed and held Charlie on my chest, skin to skin.”

Katie fully embraced motherhood, loving every minute of hockey practices, school activities and the general chaos that comes with a busy family life. “He is a momma’s boy, through and through. Charlie adores spending time with me and he takes care of me. I am so lucky!”

Desperately hoping for a third miracle
Within a few years, Katie’s health took a turn for the worse. After nearly three decades with her gifted heart, it started failing. She didn’t even know a second heart transplant was an option.

 “I was in denial,” she recalls. “I knew I was starting to feel really ill. When they officially told me I needed another heart transplant, I could barely walk up a hill, my ankles were so swollen, and I was out of breath going up stairs.”To buy Katie some time before going back on the transplant wait list, she had surgery to repair one of her heart valves, but complications afterwards caused her to lose some function on her left side. She kept getting sicker and daily activities were sometimes impossible.
But it was Charlie who kept Katie going in those darkest times.

“If I didn’t have him, I don’t know if I would have had the will to do this again,” she says through her tears. “Even though I didn’t want to get out of bed, I still had to make his lunch. I didn’t want him to see me any differently. He was my reason to get up every day.”

Katie received her third miracle, a second heart transplant, at St. Paul’s Hospital on February 3, 2018.

Living a life of gratitude
Katie’s recovery this time was a lot slower. It took her body several months to adjust to the new medications and she lost 35 pounds in the process. But her new heart was going strong and she finally started feeling better.

Now, the 44-year-old is doing great. In between hockey practices, hockey games and Charlie’s other activities, Katie is a supervision aide at an elementary school in Surrey. She often marvels at all the miracles that have brought her to this moment, giving her the opportunity to be Charlie’s mom.

“Charlie has a heart of gold. He is just a kind and gentle soul, and he really enjoys life. He loves being part of a team. And he loves all animals. He is so compassionate,” Katie smiles. “I think a lot of that compassion comes from seeing me on my journey. He has been exposed to things that other kids never experience.”

Organ donation and transplant are everyday topics of discussion in their household. And Charlie, who turns 12 at the end of the month, is likely to be the first to jump in and share his mom’s incredible story.

Katie laughs, “Charlie is super proud of me. He talks about transplants all the time. If he meets someone new, like a new teacher, he will say, ‘Did you know my mom has had TWO heart transplants?’ There isn’t a person out there that he has met who doesn’t know about our story.”

Did you know 90% of British Columbians support organ donation yet only a third of people are actually registered? One donor can save up to eight lives. Imagine that impact — register now at
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