One Macy’s Associate’s Journey with Heart Disease

February is American Heart Month – a cause that has long been important to Macy’s. In 2004, Macy’s became the founding sponsor of the American Heart Association’s® (AHA) Go Red For Women® movement. We’ve been working since to spread awareness about women’s heart health and have raised more than $65 million for the cause.

Each year, AHA and Macy’s host an event known as the Go Red For Women Red Dress Collection, where designers, models and celebrities show their support for women’s heart health during New York Fashion Week.

Macy’s Associate Karen Hill, copywriter, creative concepts, has been selected to walk in this year’s show. Hear more about Karen’s experience living with cardiomyopathy, receiving a heart transplant, and, now, walking down a runway.

Can you share your heart health story with us?

My story is somewhat of a funny one. When I was in the 6th grade, I was running to class, I thought I heard someone call my name; I turned to look behind me and ran into a wall. My shoulder hurt the rest of the day so I went to the nurse who sent me home. My mom took me to get an X-ray. My collarbone was fine, but apparently my heart was not. The X-ray coincidentally showed that I had idiopathic dilated cardiomyopathy—which basically means my heart was too big.

When I was 21, my doctor told me it was time to be listed for a transplant. There is no cure or any way to reverse cardiomyopathy.

Tell us about the road to recovery.

I received the call at 4 a.m., except my phone was dead! My transplant team then started calling my mom who had to bang on my bedroom door to wake me up.

It was an unusually long and complicated surgery – but hey, I’m here! Believe it or not, I was out of the hospital in less than a week. I still had to practice walking on my own and conquering stairs, which taught me to be grateful for the simple things. It was painful, but I was amazed to see just how much my family and friends valued me.

How did you meet your donor’s family? What was that experience like?

I was so nervous to meet them. It was only a few months after my transplant. Who were they? What was their son like? Would they like me? Am I good enough? Those were the sorts of thoughts running through my mind. But when I met them, it felt like I had known them my whole life.

My donor was an incredible 16-year-old boy who tragically passed away during a football accident. I met his family at their home along with two other organ recipients. We shared a meal and learned about our donor. It was a special day. I keep in touch with them and see them at least a couple of times a year. They are the kindest people and I am so happy to have them in my life, even if it is through such unfortunate circumstances.

What does the Go Red For Women movement mean to you? Tell us what you hope to gain from walking and what this show represents to you.

The Go Red movement is empowering women to make their health a priority – saving lives in the process – and Macy’s helps make that possible. I am proud to be a Macy’s Associate and this is certainly a large reason why. 

By walking in this show, I hope to inspire other people who are waiting for a transplant, or suffering from heart failure, or caring for a loved one with heart disease. I know from watching clips of the show in years’ past that it feels good to know people are out there fighting for you and your struggle, even if they don’t know you personally.

At the very least, I hope that the event will motivate even just one person to get a check-up or sign up to become an organ donor. 

Watch Karen make her runway at the Go Red For Women's #RedDressCollection, being broadcast on Facebook live on February 8 at 8pm EST!