Kayla Martin’s mother told her as a child that she was born with a hole in her heart. Neither of them fully understood what that meant at the time.

“I kind of thought it was cool, and I would tell my friends,” she said. “But I never understood that it affected my physical activity.”

Martin has a heart condition known as Atrial Septal Defect (ASD) that causes oxygen-rich blood to mix with deoxygenated blood and get pumped into her lungs. The once-massive hole that separates the two upper chambers of her heart has shrunk to only a few millimeters, but her heart and lungs must still work harder as a result.

The reason Martin knows so much about her condition is because she’s a recent graduate of UNC Greensboro’s School of Nursing. She started learning about ASD during her first semester, when she took a class that covered congenital heart defects in children.

“The nursing program really opened my eyes to the fact that this can be a serious condition,” she said. “I need to be an advocate for myself and, as a nurse, an advocate for my patients who have this condition and help them understand it’s going to affect all aspects of life.”

Martin graduated from UNCG in May with her bachelor of science in nursing degree. Her senior honors thesis focused on what people living with heart conditions experience. Now a registered nurse, she has helped treat patients with heart failure in the Cardiac Intensive Care Unit at Novant Health Forsyth Medical Center in Winston-Salem.

“The similarity is that my condition can lead to heart failure. Pregnancy can cause heart failure,” she said. “So, that’s the reason I can relate to my patients.”

This story originally appeared in UNCG Magazine. To read other stories about UNCG alumni making an impact, visit alumnimagazine.uncg.edu.

 

Story by Alex Abrams, School of Nursing
Photography by Martin W. Kane, University Communications