Heart of a Champion

Vicki Rynd
By Kevin Wittner, USTA.com

Surprise, Ariz. - Just before her team was about to play for the 2004 3.0 women’s championship in Palm Springs, Calif., Vicki Rynd couldn’t sleep. However, it wasn’t pre-match anxiety that plagued her, but chest pains and shortness of breath. In the coming days, Rynd’s Northwest team would go on to win the national title. Within months, she would learn she needed a heart transplant.

But back in Palm Springs, with the health of one of her top players and a national championship hanging in the balance, Tri-Cities coach Karin Sobotta had a decision to make.

“Vicki thought it was a sinus problem but I was concerned she had a heart attack,” Sobotta recalls. “She was experienced, mentally tough and we probably would have played her in every match, but we only played her two out of five matches because she wasn’t feeling well.”

The good news was that Sobotta’s concerns that Rynd had suffered a heart attack were unfounded. Shortly after returning home to Kennewick, Wash., doctors treated Rynd with a number of medications and restricted her from playing tennis. When problems persisted, she saw a cardiologist who told Rynd that her heart was working at just seven percent capacity.

“The doctor told me I shouldn’t even be conscious right now,” Rynd says. “They sent me in for treatment immediately and took 30 pounds of fluid out of the area around my heart and lungs.”

Given this new information, Rynd became a candidate for a heart transplant and would spend the next two months in the hospital.

“It was a poignant time and a wake up call both for me and my friends and family,” Rynd says. “We shared some things with each other that we wouldn’t have before because you just didn’t know if this was going to be the last time you’re going to see each other.”

During her stay, Rynd was able to leave the hospital for two hours daily. One August afternoon, Rynd was enjoying a picnic at the park with her daughter Brooklyn Gregorich and Brooklynn’s then-fiancé Josue Lowe when her cell phone rang. It was her doctor.

“(The doctor) told me to get to hospital immediately because your heart is ready,” Rynd says. “I was excited but also nervous for my surgery and sad because someone else had to die for this to happen.”

Rynd would undergo a successful heart transplant, receiving her heart from a man in his early 40s who had passed away in a motorcycle accident.

One day later, Rynd was up and walking around, and she returned home 10 days after the transplant.

By December – less than four months after her surgery – Rynd was back on the tennis courts, and she resumed league and tournament play in January 2006.

“When I got back on the court,” Rynd remembers, “that’s when I really felt alive.”

Nowadays, Rynd is playing in her second national championship since the surgery, although her coach jokes that she shouldn’t be eligible for this super senior event.

“I tease her that she shouldn’t qualify for seniors or super seniors because she has a 40-year old heart,” Sobotta laughs.

Although her return to the court and subsequent success is noteworthy, Rynd’s impact without a racquet is laudable, as she serves as a keynote speaker at various heart disease fundraising events and spreads the word on the dangers of heart disease for women.

“Every day is really a gift,” Rynd says.

And she’s enjoying every minute of it.

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