By AMERICAN HEART ASSOCIATION NEWS

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At 31, Kristi Soule blacked out. Doctors initially diagnosed her with a heart attack. But after eight days in the hospital, doctors discovered a viral infection had 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 education teacher from Colchester, Vermont.

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

While 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” when her cardiologist in August 2012 said she could switch to annual visits. One week later, on a 4-mile run with her then-boyfriend, Luke Goyette, a loop she had made alone the day before, she collapsed. Soule, then 35, was in cardiac arrest.

“The last thing I remember is turning the corner. 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 4 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 at 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 a defibrillator in her chest in case her heart’s electrical system malfunctioned again.

Faced with the news that 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 didn’t take that as a ‘no’ right away. I thought OK, it’s risky, but maybe it’ll get better,” said Soule, now 38, and engaged to Goyette.

“In the end, after seeing a few different specialists, and Luke pretty much saying, ‘It’s out of the question. You already died once. I’m not willing to take that chance again,’” the couple began considering other options for having a child.

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

Kristi Soule with surrogate and friend Jennifer Bickel-Hayes.

Kristi Soule with surrogate and friend Jennifer Bickel-Hayes.

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

Sullivan “Sulley” Hayes Goyette was born Feb. 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.”

Sullivan “Sulley” Hayes Goyette

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 the gestational carrier’s offer and timeline necessitated a 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. Things are coming out of order, but the order for us really doesn’t matter,” Soule said.

Grateful for second chances, the former workaholic reprioritized things and is now focused on what is most important and works hard at 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.”

Kristi Soule, with fiancé Luke Goyette, shares her story as a volunteer for the American Heart Association.

Kristi Soule, with fiancé Luke Goyette, shares her story as a volunteer for the American Heart Association.

Photos courtesy of Kristi Soule