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Heart of Honor

Featured Photo from Heart of Honor

Longwood native and heart transplant recipient Christina Miller takes on her first-ever triathlon in her donor’s honor

Christina Miller is like many women – active, happy, and healthy – except for one thing. She is also a heart transplant recipient.

This August marked 13 grateful years of Christina’s life since she received her new heart, and she’s been taking it day-by-day ever since. From the moment Christina was given a second chance at life to the moment she crossed the finish line at the St. Anthony’s Sprint Triathlon in St. Petersburg this year, Christina has lived every day by her faith and in honor of her donor.

“There is not a day that passes by that I don’t think of my donor and the donor’s family, and the second chance they provided my family and me,” says Christina. “I have overcome several challenges throughout the last 13 years, and each challenge has made me stronger and more connected with my faith.”

At the age of 17, Christina went from being a busy and active student at Lake Brantley High School to being a patient diagnosed with dilated cardiomyopathy, a disease that weakens the heart muscle and makes it hard for the heart to pump     blood efficiently.

Christina’s condition revealed itself during a family vacation in Europe when she started to experience worrying shortness of breath and fatigue. Never having dealt with health problems before, Christina sought medical attention which eventually led her to the UF Health pediatric cardiac intensive care unit, where she was confined to her bed, too weak to walk while waiting for a new heart.

When her first transplant was called off due to a heart defect after organ procurement, Christina remained strong, calling it “a blessing in disguise.” Waiting to receive news of a healthy heart match, Christina persevered and was determined to walk across the stage on graduation day at LBHS. After a successful transplant, she endured cardiac rehabilitation, closely monitoring her heart rate and heart health.

“Once I had the transplant, life changed completely,” says Christina. “I had to adjust to my new norm, learn to manage medications for the rest of my life, and be careful with the activities I did. I took everything in stride and had to be patient with myself and my body.”

Following her high-school graduation, Christina attended college in Gainesville where she met her husband, Jeff. Married in 2012, Jeff and Christina now live in Orlando and lead a very active lifestyle. They work out five days a week and enjoy outdoor sports like wakeboarding and snowboarding.

Every three months, Christina continues to receive checkups by her cardiologists.

“My lifestyle is great and my cardiac function is great now, so it’s not a huge concern,” says Christina. “I take medication every day and monitor my heart rate, but otherwise I function like an average person and have no boundaries due to my                heart condition.”

With all that boundless energy, Christina took on a new challenge this year – training to complete the St. Anthony’s Sprint Triathlon in St. Petersburg in two hours.

Christina trained every day for several months, taking it one day at a time and paying close attention to how her body was feeling.

“It’s the way I’ve had to live for the last 13 years of my life,” she says. Christina’s main goal was to get through the race, honor her donor and the donor’s family, and use the triathlon as a platform for organ donation and procurement.

“I am forever grateful for the selfless decision my donor’s family made to ‘Donate Life,’ and I want to be an example for someone facing similar hurdles. Anything is possible with faith and perseverance.”

Christina completed the triathlon in one hour and 41 minutes, and she came in 416th out of 4,000 participants. Without a doubt, Christina’s heart donor is cheering her on and beaming with pride.

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