Metro Detroit mom embraces heart surgery scars after being born with aortic stenosis

Kristin Vansingel wears scars proudly, teaches others importance of celebrating scars

Heart conditions don’t just affect older adults.

In fact, congenital heart defects are the most common type of birth defect and about one in four babies with a heart defect has a critical defect.

Medical advances are helping those patients live longer and healthier lives, and a Metro Detroit mom is living proof of that.

“I was born with aortic stenosis, so when I came out I was gray and the doctors determined that something was obviously wrong,” said Kristin Vansingel.

She was rushed by ambulance to the University of Michigan hospital.

“At one day old I had my first open heart surgery. My dad and the nurse actually baptized me before I went into surgery,” she said. “Eighteen months later I had my second one. At that point they put in a conduit, which is a pig’s valve, which helped extra blood flow through the body. And then when I was 12 I had my last open heart surgery when they took out that conduit, and they made my pulmonary valve my aortic valve and I have a donor pulmonary valve.”

The surgeries that saved her life left Vansingel with several scars, scars that she wears with pride.

“Definitely growing up, being a girl, people worry about body image and things like that. I’ll say my parents always taught me to have a positive body image and to be proud of myself, so not to worry if my scars were showing,” she said.

Vansingel is passionate about encouraging others to celebrate what their scars signify.

“It’s a mark of what you’ve gone through something, and it’s a badge of honor to show it’s nothing to be ashamed of. It’s something to be proud of,” she said.

She also works with the American Heart Association to encourage everyone to make their health a priority.

“You have to be proactive and if you think there’s something potentially going on to ask your doctor, and if they don’t give you an answer that you like, perhaps you need to see another doctor,” she said. “You know your body best and so you really have to listen to your body and know what is normal for you and what isn’t.”

In the past two years, Vansingel has needed treatment for atrial fibrillation and an episode of heart failure. She’s recovered and is focused on teaching her 4-year-old daughter the lessons she has learned about confidence and overcoming adversity.

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