Woman runs for teen, doctors who saved her life

Karen Hill has invited family and friends to run with her at the Race for Every Child. (Courtesy Karen Hill)

WASHINGTON — Karen Hill got a new heart when she was just 21. One year later, she is lacing up her running shoes to thank the medical team that saved her life.

“I got my life back before it could be taken away from me,” says Hill with a smile and a sigh.

Now she is thrilled to be healthy, whole, and ready to give back.

On Saturday, Oct. 3, she will run in the annual Race for Every Child 5K to benefit the Children’s National Health System. Registration for the race closes at midnight.

Fittingly, the race is on the first anniversary of her transplant.

“I thought it would be a great way to give back to the hospital that did so much for me.”

Hill, who grew up in the District, was diagnosed with heart problems at Children’s at the age of 11 — around the same time she discovered running.

“It was like a really freeing feeling,” she says, remembering hours spent running with her school cross-country team.

But by the time she was 15, her condition had progressed to the point where she had to give it up.

Hill had just graduated from Fordham University in New York and was visiting her family in D.C. when her condition suddenly took a severe turn for the worse. On the day before her father’s birthday, she was rushed to Children’s where doctors delivered the bad news.

She needed a new heart.

There was an anxious seven-week wait for a donor, and then the family learned of a match: a 16-year-old high school football player from New York, Tom Cutinella, who had died in a freak accident on the playing field.

“It was a really tragic story hearing about it, but so inspiring,” says Hill, adding “I felt I had to be active again because I definitely owed it to my donor.”

Now fully recovered, she is rediscovering the sport she gave up at 15. Hill, now a New Yorker. originally planned to make the Race for Every Child her big comeback to the sport, but recently went in a different direction.

When Tom Cutinella’s family called and asked her to participate a 5K last weekend in his memory, Hill just couldn’t say no.

She is running in the two events as a package — one to thank the young athlete who gave her his heart, and the other to repay the doctors whose skill made the transplant work.

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