Hearts of two runners collide

By Tara Poulin

“A runner must run with dreams in his heart,” said Emil Zatopek, Olympic long-distance runner, winner of 3 gold medals in the 1952 summer Olympics, and known for his brutally tough training methods.  


This statement was never more true than when considering the bond that has been formed between my daughter, who was born with congenital heart disease and kidney malformations, and a woman who runs in her name for each Boston Marathon, including during this past year’s tragedy.

On October 13, 2003, three days after her birth at Brigham & Women’s Hospital (BWH), Kendal Powe had her first cardiac surgery performed. She was diagnosed in utero by Gerald Marx, MD, at Boston Children’s Hospital, at approximately 30 weeks of my pregnancy—at which time he began his cardiology care for Kendal.  The birth was particularly emotional for me, as I work as a birth doula and had participated in many births at BWH. I knew all the doctors and nurses involved in the birth from my own work at the hospital. But it was quite a different experience being the actual patient, especially with a newborn who had severe congenital heart defects.

Kendal had a bicuspid aortic valve, multiple ventricular septal defect and a coarctation of the aorta. She was taken to the ICU at Boston Children’s immediately after birth. The complex six-hour surgery was performed by Frank Pigula, MD, a cardiac surgeon at Boston Children’s. Kendal was near death with congestive heart failure going into the surgery, but she was a fighter and came through the surgery in excellent condition. After a stay in the cardiac surgical ICU (including being breastfed by me!), she was able to leave the hospital within two weeks.

Wendy, Kendal and Dr. Marx

Kendal’s growth as a young child has been nothing short of remarkable. She is a real student-athlete now, running, skiing, skateboarding and excelling in school.

Nine years ago, Wendy Akeson was linked up with the then 1-year-old Kendal as a patient partner runner through Boston Children’s “Miles for Miracles” program in the Boston Marathon. For nine straight years, she has continued to be paired with and run for Kendal. Wendy and Kendal have formed quite a strong bond and relationship.

Kendal admires Wendy as a mentor, friend and role model. So much so that Kendal joined a track and field cross-country team this year, because she just dreams of being like Wendy. Kendal loves running; her goal someday is to run the Boston Marathon with Wendy.

Cheering on Wendy

Kendal, along with her brother and sisters and I, have gone to the Boston Marathon every year to cheer on Wendy. We always are near the finish line to meet Wendy after the race. However, this year’s violent tragedy horribly disrupted a normally joyous event.

Kendal, her siblings and I were close to the finish line, as usual. We heard noises and wondered why everyone was in such chaos. Soon, the news came out that bombs had exploded, many people were injured and everyone was being told to get away as soon as possible. Kendal’s biggest concern was the safety of Wendy. Even as people were running away from the scene, even as no one knew if any more bombs would explode, all Kendal kept asking about was if Wendy was OK. They had not seen Wendy yet, so they did not know. We ultimately learned about Wendy’s safety, but it became clear that day that Kendal’s heart had healed in a way that exceeded all expectations. Not only can this healthy 9-year-old girl participate in any athletic event without medical limitations, but now, standing merely feet away from a horrible terrorist attack, all Kendal was concerned with was the safety of her patient partner runner, Wendy.  Truly, an example of a heart that is bigger and stronger than the universe.

Getting a little help with the bib

On October, 13, 2013—Kendal’s 10th anniversary of her open-heart surgery—she ran a 2k race in Wayland Mass. To make it even more special, Wendy came to cheer Kendal on and even pinned on her bib number for her. For the past nine years, it’s always been Kendal cheering Wendy on during races, but on this date things were reversed, which led to a very emotional, joyous day.

It was a tough run for Kendal, but her athleticism and drive led her to great success. It’s hard to believe I was counting her finish time and just 10 years prior I was counting her ventilator breaths.

 Wendy will run the Boston Marathon again in 2014, as a patient partner with Kendal. Her page can be found here.

One thought on “Hearts of two runners collide

  1. Kendal — Your story and Wendy’s story brings tears to my eyes. Tears of joy because I am so unbelievably proud of you and your amazing strength and because it warms my heart to know there are people like Wendy in this world who inspire our children and act as role models to our heart kids and healthy kids alike. The love & support that Wendy has shown you and your family over the years by running the marathon leaves me speechless. I am so glad your mum chose to post your story here because not only are you and Wendy inspiring but your mother is too. Your mother holds a very special place in my heart because she helped deliver my daughter Haven who is now 3 1/2 and was born with a life threatening CHD. As a doula, your mother has helped countless women, myself in included, who were terrified during labor and delivery knowing their precious baby would be born with a serious CHD and faced multiple interventions and surgeries immediately after birth. Your mother took her own experience in delivering you and has supported and assisted many of us to do the same. Thankfully, my daughter Haven has successfully completed three open heart surgeries at Children’s Hospital Boston by the same team of amazing doctors and surgeons. All three of you are amazing women and I cannot wait to share your story with Haven in the years to come. Much love to all three of you, Molly

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