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Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Home is Where the Heart Is

Matt, Krissy and the Richard family (provided).

by Colin Moore

It’s a pretty normal Thursday morning. The kids are eating breakfast and you’re getting ready to head to the YMCA for bootcamp.  But then your husband, who is thirty five and admirably healthy, comes down and he’s kind of off. He says he feels like he might have woken up at the wrong time, like he didn’t finish a sleep cycle or something. He sits down anyway and your son asks him a question about baseball. He doesn’t know the answer, which is strange because he played baseball during college and he coaches little league. He notices the contractors on the porch, the ones who have been there for days, doing a job you’ve been planning for months. He asks who they are and why they’re here.  He heads back upstairs and when you follow him up he’s sitting in a chair you’ve never seen him use before. He finally agrees that he needs to go to hospital and get checked out. You’ve heard good things about the big one across the bridge but it’s fifteen minutes away and there is one three minutes away, pretty much in your neighborhood. He’s in the car now, where are you going?

Krissy and Matt Richard met while they were both working at a Christian camp in Upstate New York in 2000. They were married in 2003 and moved around a little but when they decided to start a family they knew they wanted to settle somewhere with a great sense of community, so they moved back to Fort Thomas where Krissy’s family is from, “My dad went to Highlands, my grandma went to Highlands, my grandpa went to Highlands, so we have roots here in Fort Thomas.” Eleven years later the Richards are still in the town with their four children, Josiah, 11, Kayla Grace, 8, Eli, 6, and Micah, 2. 

Last June life took an unexpected turn, which made them even more grateful that they chose to call Fort Thomas home.

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Matt’s illness came completely out of the blue, “I’ve always been the sporty guy, I took it for granted that I could just roll out of bed and run a race.” He woke up confused and disoriented with no short-term memory. “He knew who were but he didn’t remember what we had done last night.” Krissy ran across the street to the YMCA, where she knew her parents would be. While her mom watched the kids, her dad helped her take Matt to hospital. She considered heading to one of the bigger hospitals in Cincinnati but her Dad thought they better head to the nearest one, which was St Elizabeth in Fort Thomas.  It was the right decision: “We got to the desk, he gave his name and address and collapsed and hit his head on the desk.” Doctors and nurses rushed in to the waiting room and took Matt back to a room for tests.

Outside of the hospital and unbeknown to Matt and Krissy the community had already started to rally round the Richard family. When Krissy had gone to the YMCA to get her parents she had been understandably upset. The people at bootcamp had notice and, after she and her mom left, the class had started to take action. “They were obviously concerned, so they stopped the class and prayed for us and talked about how they could help us.”

Back at the hospital the doctors really weren’t sure what was happening to Matt. They took blood, did an MRI, ran x-rays, pretty much everything they could think of. “He didn’t know what year it was, he didn’t know who the president was but he knew me, he knew my Dad, he knew our kids’ names and he could recite a whole chapter of the Bible.” To Matt it felt like he couldn’t pay attention to things. “I would ask her what had happened and then I would lose attention and ask her again. I would apologize and she would tell me I’d already asked her fifteen times.” For Krissy that was the scary part, “His aunt has Alzheimer’s, and I felt like I was talking to his aunt.” Suddenly Matt started picking up. “He started making jokes, he even made a joke about how maybe he had the Zika virus, which was current at the time, so the nurses and I thought, “Oh, maybe he’s started to get some memory back.” Just as things started looking up, Matt flat-lined. His heart stopped for twenty two seconds. The doctors and nurses ran into the room and Krissy’s dad held her. She thought about what would happen if he didn’t come back round. “Twenty two seconds is a long time to think about that.”

Meanwhile at home someone from Krissy’s bootcamp was mowing their lawn.

Once Matt’s heart started again, Krissy remembers that the doctors and nurses almost seemed excited. “When the monitor stopped, that’s when we knew, it’s the heart.” Once they knew what they were looking for they began to focus on his heart. A cardiologist was called and they were moved up to ICU. By the evening Matt was feeling much better, his memory had returned and he could remember the previous evening. The doctors told him he probably needed a pacemaker and that he’d be staying for a while. “They said, “Even though we don’t know what caused your heart to stop we can’t let you out knowing that it could stop again.”” One scan also showed a small hole in his heart which had been sending debris to his brain, causing mini strokes. Matt stayed in the hospital for five days. Krissy stayed with him the first night and then went home to sleep. While she was awake she was camped out at the hospital.

By the end of the first day there were two coolers full of food delivered to their house. A group from their church, Grace Fellowship in the Highlander Events Center, were providing dinner, and kept doing so until they were back on their feet. “We have four kids and we were in the hospital for five days. Our friends and our parents basically took over with the kids. Even though I was in the house at night they had the kids from the moment I went to the hospital in the morning until when I got home at nine or ten. The community just banded together to help us out.” Matt remembers, “It was a good feeling, you’re sitting there and thinking who has the kids and Krissy would say, “I’m not sure but they’re with the West family or the Sheets family” and we didn’t have to worry about them, we just knew they were in good hands.”

When doctors first started to talk to Matt about pacemakers he wasn’t too sure “I felt fine, I wanted to rip the IV out and walk out. I knew I needed to mow my lawn and at that point I felt normal. I was like I’m going to go home and mow my lawn!” At first they showed him a traditional pacemaker, which has wires and would have protruded from his chest but a few hours later they came back with another option: a wireless pacemaker less than an inch long, about the size of a large pill, that sits right inside his heart. “I felt a TON better about that option.” Dr Hayes at St Elizabeth is the only physician in the region who works with this pacemaker. 

“I felt doubly blessed about ending up at St Elizabeth with Dr Hayes on call. You just kind of assume you have to go a distance to get the best care. It was shocking and pleasantly surprising to know that the hospital right in your back yard is the very best care.” Krissy is also glad they made the decision not to cross the bridge that morning. “It was a providential thing and God was like “You need to be there.” If we’d gone across the bridge he might not have made it to the hospital. And he wouldn’t have had the only doctor in the region who could give him the option he needed to live a normal life from here on out.” The pacemaker really has very little impact on Matt's life, so much so that by the end of the summer he and Krissy were back out running races together.

By now word of what had happened to Matt was well and truly out. There were cards coming in, one wall was in the house was soon covered in them. There were gift cards coming in for pizza. Lots of people came to visit, which was a huge help to Matt who was feeling fine after the first day but still had to stay in the hospital. “That was a mental challenge because you come out of your stroke and you feel fine, tired but fine, and then you just have to wait it out. It’s a long time to be feeling normal sitting in a hospital bed.” The kids’ club at the YMCA sent Matt a poster. His baseball team had a game and took a picture of them holding up a big banner saying “Get well soon Coach Matt”. A couple of the team even came to the hospital after the game, in their uniforms, to cheer him up.  “Some of my close friends in Fort Thomas, Scott and Nathan, brought magazines or puzzle books and spent a couple of hours just talking to help me pass the time, so that meant a lot.”

Even when Matt got out of the hospital he still had to get the hole in his heart sealed at the end of the month, so he was back and forward to the hospital for tests and to prepare him for the next procedure. To Krissy, “That whole month of June kind of felt like it was lost to medical issues.”

The whole month people continued to help the Richard family where they could. People from Krissy’s bootcamp continued to cut the grass, even the instructor took a turn. Out and about in the community people who Matt didn’t even know would come up and tell them they’d been thinking of him and praying for him. “There was so much that the community did for us. We always knew this was a great community but you don’t know how much until something like this happens. When you go through something like that you just appreciate the community even more.”

Matt and Krissy now try to spend time reaching and educating people using their experiences.  For whatever reason this was in God’s plan for our lives and we want to take what we’ve been given and use it to help other people. We didn’t even think about heart issues before this. We’re healthy, we’re active, we eat pretty healthily, we just never thought this was a problem we would face. Heart problems can touch anybody of any age, it doesn’t discriminate.” Matt thinks that people are unaware of just what doctors can do in cardiology. “Their perception is a few decades old. Folks would try to come up and hug me very gingerly. There’s no scars, I didn’t have any open heart procedure, there’s no box on my chest. It’s amazing what they can do nowadays. They can do all these wonderful things and you can go home the next day. If anybody is having questionable episodes or anything they’re not sure about with their heart, go meet with a cardiologist, go have that appointment.”

Matt, Krissy and their family are taking part in the HeartChase event this May 20th with the American Heart Association in Northern Kentucky. “It’s a family friendly, kind of an amazing race, about heart health. We’d love to see a bunch of teams from Fort Thomas there.” 

To register, or for more information visit;

Matt and Krissy after running the Hudy 7k in September (provided)

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