Heart attack survivor has baby via surrogate

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Kristi Soule of Colchester (left) is pictured with her friend and surrogate, Jennifer Bickel-Hayes, who helped her have a child despite a heart condition that she thought would rule out having children. (Photo courtesy of American Heart Assoc. News)

Kristi Soule of Colchester (left) is pictured with her friend and surrogate, Jennifer Bickel-Hayes, who helped her have a child despite a heart condition that she thought would rule out having children. (Photo courtesy of American Heart Assoc. News)

By AMERICAN HEART ASSOCIATION NEWS

When Kristi Soule was told she couldn’t have a baby due to her heart condition, she didn’t easily take no for an answer.

She was 35 and just had a defibrillator implanted in her heart after collapsing during a run. She’d done something similar four years prior.

Back then, doctors diagnosed Soules with a heart attack, but after eight days in the hospital, they discovered a viral infection attacked her heart and greatly decreased its function.

After that, Soule started paying more attention to her heart health.

“I started running because I thought that’s what all healthy people did,” said the special educator from Colchester.

Although doctors were reluctant at first, they gave Soule the green light. Over the next few years, she picked up running to help relieve stress.

Though doctors told Soule her heart function might improve, it never did. So after four years of twice-yearly heart checks, Soule felt like it was a “huge celebration” in August 2012 when her cardiologist said she could switch to annual visits.

One week later, on a familiar four-mile run with her then-boyfriend, Luke Goyette, Soule collapsed. Then 35, Soule was in cardiac arrest.

“The last thing I remember is turning the corner,” Soule said. “We were about a mile from home, and I said to Luke how fortunate I was to be able to run and do something that I love. Not everybody would be able to run four miles, and I was so grateful. Then moments later, I collapsed.”

Goyette, without a cellphone, flagged down a passing motorist to call 911 and another person to retrieve an automated external defibrillator from a nearby gym. Then he began CPR until EMTs arrived. They used the AED to deliver three shocks to restart Soule’s heart.

“I was unresponsive without a pulse for about 10 minutes,” Soule said.

At the hospital, Soule was in a drug-induced coma, on a ventilator and packed with ice to keep her body temperature below normal to reduce further damage. She opened her eyes overnight.

A few days later, doctors implanted the defibrillator in case her heart’s electrical system malfunctioned again.

Faced with the news her condition was permanent, Soule had two big challenges to overcome: She could no longer run, and she was told pregnancy likely wouldn’t be an option.

“I thought, ‘OK, it’s risky, but maybe it’ll get better,’” said Soule, now 38, and engaged to Goyette.

Soule saw a few specialists, and with Goyette’s urging – he told her, “You already died once. I’m not willing to take that chance again,” – the couple began considering options for having a child.

A close friend, Jennifer Bickel-Hayes, volunteered to carry the pair’s biological child.

“It’s such a gift, such a gift,” Soule said.

Sullivan “Sulley” Hayes Goyette was born February 26.

“We are loving life. He is such a good little guy, so cuddly, good sleeper, good eater, couldn’t be better. Way more than I ever imagined it could be,” Soule said. “I didn’t know that my heart could be so full.”

Soule and Goyette got engaged in October 2014, about two years after her cardiac event. They planned to wed on a warm beach in February 2016, but her friend’s offer and timeline necessitated change.

“The plan was to get married first, but when you have a friend that offers to have a baby for you, I guess you just take the first chance that you get,” Soule said. “Things are coming out of order, but the order for us really doesn’t matter.”

Grateful for second chances, the former workaholic reprioritized, focusing on managing stress and not sweating the small stuff. She also went from keeping her cardiac arrest very private to sharing it publicly to educate others that it can happen to a healthy young person.

“Being a 35-year-old face talking about heart disease is not what I ever pictured or expected to see when I thought about heart disease and heart health,” she said. “I thought it was something I’d need to think about when I was much older. Now it’s part of my everyday.”