Sunday, March 2, 2003

Heart transplant patient looks toward college

Catching up

By Peggy O'Farrell
The Cincinnati Enquirer

[photo] Kimberlee Ryle spends time with her brother, Travonte Harris, after her heart transplant in June at Children's Hospital.
(Steven M. Herppich photo)
| ZOOM |
Kimberlee Ryle should be back on the gymnast's bars by the end of the year.

"I don't have enough strength right now," says the Xenia High School senior. "You have to be able to lift your own weight."

Ryle, 18, of Wilberforce underwent a heart transplant in June at Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center.

Took ACT in hospital

Two weeks after the surgery, while still hospitalized, she took the ACT. She had planned to leave the hospital early to take the test, but her doctors talked her out of it after hospital employees volunteered to proctor the test.

When she graduates in a few months, Ryle will start on a nursing degree at Wright State University.

"I'm fine," she says, eight months after the surgery. "I'm feeling good."

Before the transplant, Ryle suffered from dilated cardiomyopathy, an enlargement of the heart that weakens the muscle and leaves the heart unable to pump blood efficiently.

Fluid can build up in the lungs, making breathing difficult. Fluid can also build up in the tissues and organs of the body, including the legs, ankles, liver and abdomen.

Her health started troubling her when she was 9. She got what her doctors thought was a virus that she couldn't seem to shake. It wasn't a virus: Her heart was failing. Doctors don't know what triggered the cardiomyopathy. She was in and out of the hospital for four years until she was able to control her symptoms with medications.

Last April, her heart began to fail again. The next month, she was putting on the waiting list for a heart transplant.

Missed some school

Her illness made her miss a few months of school, but she made up the work while hospitalized. And she spent her spare time studying for the ACT.

Hitting the books will let her achieve her lifelong dream: She wants to be a neonatal nurse. She's now in a job-shadowing program at Children's Medical Center in Dayton.

"I get to see all the tiny little babies," Ryle says.

She says she often thinks about the person who donated her new heart.

"I want to tell them, thank you," she says.

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