How to help
A garage sale and raffle fundraiser for Kelly Jones is set for 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. May 8 outside Ryan’s restaurant in Dawsonville. Donations are also accepted through the nonprofit Helping Hands Ministries at www.hhmin.org.
Kelly Jones doesn’t go anywhere without George.
She can’t. They’re literally attached at the hip.
George is Jones’ name for her left ventricular assist device, or LVAD, a surgically-implanted mechanism that maintains her weak heart’s ability to pump blood.
At 22, Jones is awaiting a heart transplant.
Until then, George, a “heavy purse” carrying the mechanical equipment needed to keep her heart going, will need to stay over her shoulder and attached to her heart.
In August, Jones discovered through an echocardiogram that her heart’s left ventricle didn’t form correctly at birth.
The condition, called non-compaction cardiomyopathy, is a congenital defect most commonly known for causing young athletes to collapse from overexertion due to a weak heart.
The Forsyth County resident donned an external defibrillator in December to regulate her heart, but congestive heart failure in February landed her in St. Joseph’s Hospital.
Her options were to stay there and await a transplant or undergo surgery to have the device implanted.
“I said, ‘Let’s go ahead and do the LVAD,’” she said. “I had to stay in the hospital for 23 days and I was going crazy.”
Most people’s blood cycles through the heart at 50 percent or more, Jones said. When she entered the hospital, hers was at about 4 percent.
She had been having difficulty walking the North Georgia College & State University campus and even climbing the stairs at home.
But with George at her side, she feels much better.
“It’s amazing what a little bit of blood flow will do for you,” she said.
Though the LVAD will keep her heart going as long as it’s with her, Jones has to sleep and bathe with the bulky device.
She’s also unable to drive, since an auto accident could crush the LVAD.
If she gets the heart transplant, she’ll be able to lead her life almost as if nothing had ever happened.
Jones said she has a good chance of getting a heart as soon as a month after getting on the list in June because she’s young, otherwise healthy and has no antibodies.
Also, her blood type is a good one for finding a suitable heart.
Jones likes to joke that she tries to model her outlook after her blood type, B positive.
“I’ve only had two little spots where I was going, ‘Oh my goodness,’” she said. “I’ve been actually doing pretty good with it. I’ve just been thinking positive about it.
“That’s what basically keeps me going. It’s something that’s been put into my life for a reason, and I have to just deal with it.”
Mother Suzanne Jones said she is proud of how her daughter has handled the difficult situation.
After a close relative had triple bypass surgery, Suzanne Jones said it was quite an “eye opener” to watch her daughter undergo a similar procedure.
As a nurse, she’s been able to relay much of the complex medical information and is able to monitor her daughter’s needs.
“Sometimes it’s even more difficult when you have all that information, and then you have to deal with your own child,” she said. “I’m really not the nurse anymore. I have to be the mother.”
Suzanne and Bobby Jones agree that too many things have fallen into place during their daughter’s difficult time to be a coincidence.
For one, Bobby Jones was laid off and unable to find another job. But now he’s able to stay home with his daughter.
“God’s really worked in our lives,” he said. “There were just too many miracles involved.”
He said the cards, prayers and gestures have shown him just how many people, even those they don’t know, have come together on his daughter’s behalf.
A fundraiser for Jones took place in early April in Rockdale County, where she attended high school.
“It’s just amazing how all of this brought us together,” Bobby Jones said. “It’s been a life-changing event.”
Kelly Jones, her father and brother are looking forward to the day when they will all get to go scuba diving together again, once she no longer needs the LVAD.
She’ll be able to drive her old Toyota Camry, finish her criminal justice degree and eventually start a family.
“I’m setting one goal at a time,” she said.