By Alyce Collins
THIS INSPIRING bodybuilder is only 28-years-old but has already had four open-heart surgeries and at 27 had a pacemaker fitted only weeks before entering her first bikini fitness competition.
Bikini competitor Kristin Renae Hayza (28) from Michigan, USA, was diagnosed with a heart defect at just six months old as doctors warned she only had weeks to live.
At 10 days old, Kristin’s parents took her to the hospital as they’d noticed that she stopped breathing while nursing. Doctors remained calm and said nothing was wrong with her and that she was just a fussy baby.
Kristin was born with a single ventricle defect, dextrocardia, atrial septal defect, pulmonary stenosis, ventricular septal defect and tricuspid atresia and transposition of the great arteries. Throughout her life, she has had four open heart surgeries, from six months old, three and five years old then finally at 27 years old.
During her final heart surgery in 2017, Kristin had a pacemaker fitted after going into complete heart block, meaning her heart was beating too slowly.
Despite enduring pain for weeks following her most recent open-heart surgery, Kristin has worked on rebuilding her strength as she works out six days a week, and even entered her first bodybuilding competition just two months after the operation.
“I was diagnosed with my heart defects at six months old in 1990,” said Kristin.
“The surgeon told my parents that I was just weeks away from suffocating in my sleep. My parents were in total shock at the diagnosis because they had taken me to the hospital at 10 days old when I stopped breathing and doctors said I was fine.
“I’ve had four open heart surgeries so far. At six months I had the Blalock-T shunt operation, at three I had a Glenn surgery, aged five I had the Fontan surgery and last year I had a sub-aortic resection. I’ve also had many heart catheters put in.
“I don’t remember the recovery for my first three operations as I was so young, but the fourth was horrific to be honest. The pain and the frustration that went with the recovery was awful.
“I had a pacemaker put in during my fourth heart surgery after going into complete heart block. I was so disappointed about needing one and I really struggled with it for months.
“Trusting my pacemaker has been the hardest thing for me as I’d taken heart medication my whole life until after that surgery, so to abruptly stop taking medication was difficult mentally, and then I had to trust the device on top of that.
“I’ve been ill my entire life. I’ve had great years and tough years when it came to my health. I’ve had doctors’ appointments, test after test and limited myself out of fear of something bad happening.
“I was told not to do sports or anything that would raise my heart rate too much, so I didn’t do a whole lot of strenuous activities growing up.
“When I got a new cardiologist in 2013, he told me to make my own limits because I know my body better than anyone else, so I started pushing myself more.
“I never thought I’d be where I am now. I’m the healthiest I’ve ever been, and I can keep up with people at the gym. My life’s been non-stop health issues – if it wasn’t my heart it was my blood platelet issues, or if not that it was my colitis.
“I feel like I never truly had a break from appointments and tests. Now though, I am in such good shape physically and mentally, and I hope to push the boundaries a little more.
“For most of my life I had struggled with depression and anxiety attacks due to being ill and not knowing what would happen in the future. It put a huge mental, physical and emotional toll on me.
“I did some research and found that working out can help with mental health, so in 2014 I decided to give it a try. As I got more involved in fitness and started to achieve more, it began to be more of an obsession.
“I decided about a month after my fourth heart surgery that I was going to enter in a competition and I prepped for 36 weeks after.
“It was extremely hard and challenging but I’m so glad I did it despite wanting to give up at points.
“I can lift heavy for a person who has had her chest cracked open multiple times. It depends how I’m feeling each day, but chest days are tough. I still have a lot of pain from the most recent heart surgery, so I do light weights on chest day.
“With the help of my pro bodybuilder brother, Jake, I did a personal best by deadlifting 56kg just six months after heart surgery.
“I work out six days a week doing training and cardio, then one rest day. My training is usually an hour long and I do about half an hour of high intensity interval training (HIIT) every day.”
Kristin has made a remarkable recovery after having so many heart surgeries and being warned not to overwork herself, to then take part in a bikini fitness competition only a year later.
By sharing her story, Kristin hopes to inspire others who have been diagnosed with congenital heart disease and who spend their entire life feeling restricted.
“The past will always affect my training. If I’m having a bad day then I have to take things slower or lighter,” said Kristin.
“Some days I can barely walk on the treadmill without having to take breaks, but for the most part I do well. I’m always going to have a bit of a setback because of what I’ve been through and living with only half a heart, but I do what I can.
“Having a pacemaker does have an impact because I can feel it when I do abs, deadlifts and while running. It’s such an awful feeling and I absolutely hate it.
“I’ve even spoken with my cardiologist about having it moved to another part of my body, which we’re still discussing now. I’m hoping to adjust to having it and learning to feel more comfortable with it.
“My friends and family have always been very proud of me. Hearing the cheers from them as I walk on stage is very comforting.
“When someone’s child is diagnosed with congenital heart disease, the parents aren’t always given much hope, or they’re told their child won’t have a great life. So, I do this to give them just a little bit of hope for what their child may be able to do in the future.
“It’s usually an invisible illness and just because we don’t look sick doesn’t mean we aren’t.
“It’s a tough sickness to have and to cope with, so please be compassionate when you hear that someone has congenital heart disease because they will be struggling.”
Follow Kristin’s fitness journey by visiting @kristinrenaeh.chdsurvivor.