Girl is gold medal swimmer thanks to gift of life from perfect stranger

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CLEVELAND, Ohio -- Life can change in an instant. The Seitz family from Hudson can attest to that. Their life has changed forever thanks to a complete stranger.

Their daughter Kendra became ill at the age of four.

“We thought she had the flu and a couple of days later it was not getting better,” said Leo Seitz.

The family took Kendra to the doctor to be treated. Later that day, she was flown to the Cleveland Clinic Children’s Hospital where she was diagnosed with Cardiogenic Shock, a condition in which your heart suddenly can’t pump enough blood to your body’s needs.

“She certainly would have died without a heart transplant,” said Dr. Gerard Boyle, a pediatric cardiologist and medical director of transplant services at Cleveland Clinic Children’s.

Kendra ended up needing a heart transplant at the age of 4. It was a 9-hour surgery performed at the Cleveland Clinic.

“A long surgery,” said Kendra’s mother, Lea. “I was happy, ecstatic, but at the same time terrified.”

Today, Kendra is a healthy and active 12-year-old. She loves to swim and is a member of the Hudson Aquatics Team. This past June, she competed in the Transplant Games of America.

“I was definitely nervous,” she said. “My heart was racing, and I was just happy and real excited to do what I was participating in.”

Kendra did more than just participate in the event; she dominated it. She brought home a gold medal in the 50 meter butterfly and breaststroke, won silver in freestyle and a bronze medal in the backstroke.

“I was shocked, and amazed because I did not think I was that good to beat other really good swimmers, so that was a surprise,” she said.

“Sometimes I feel like she really has her little donor angel with her,” Lea said.

Kendra is in her first year of middle school on the distinguished honor roll. She will be awarded with the Cleveland Clinic Sports Health Courage Award at the 17th annual Greater Cleveland Sports Awards on January 26.

“The first thing that went through my head was how is it me? There is so many other people that could have gotten it,” said Kendra.

The Seitz family received a gift 8 years ago, a gift of life that has changed their family forever.

Kendra does not know the donor of her heart, but hopes to one day meet the family that made it all possible.