“It was not a successful run,” Hill, 23, told Runner’s World, “but I was happy that I stuck to it and did it.”
Though brief, the jaunt marked a significant moment as Hill’s first real run since her freshman year of high school. It also became the first time her strides were powered by a heart that wasn’t her own.
In October last year, Hill underwent a heart transplant. She needed it because when Hill was 11 years old, she was diagnosed with idiopathic dilated cardiomyopathy, a disease that causes the heart muscle to enlarge and to stop pumping blood efficiently, triggering a host of complications.
From the time of her diagnosis through the end of college at Fordham University, symptoms of the disease—which included fatigue, shortness of breath, and other problems because it began to affect her other organs—gradually got worse. She could run until her freshman year of high school, but as her health deteriorated, staying active ceased being an option.
“It sucked,” Hill said. “The more and more things that were taken from me, the more frustrating it got.”
The day before her last final exam during her senior year at Fordham, Hill became so sick that she was taken to the hospital. There, doctors informed her she’d need a new heart.
Seven anxiety-filled weeks later, Hill’s doctors found a match. She later learned the heart came from Tom Cutinella, a 16-year-old football player from Shoreham, New York, who died after colliding with another player during a game, according to WTOP.
“I was excited, but I knew it was really bad news for another family,” Hill said. “As many years as I had to prepare [for this moment], I wasn’t sure what to feel. So I went to the hospital and got it over with.”
After three months of recovery, Hill landed a position as a copywriter for Ralph Lauren in New York City. Then once the weather improved, she resolved to return to the roads.
“I promised my parents that after the transplant I would start working out and try to take care of myself,” Hill said. “I wanted to take advantage of my newfound energy. The general feeling of wellness felt really good.”
About four months after that 10-minute trial run, Hill ran her first race since her surgery—the Tunnel to Towers 5K in New York City on September 27—alongside the donor’s mother, Kelli Cutinella, and his sister, Carlie Cutinella. The trio ran in Tom Cutinella’s memory.
“I definitely have endless gratitude toward such a brave young man,” Hill said. “It’s inspiring to know that someone so young had made that decision [to be an organ donor].”
The following weekend, Hill was scheduled to run the Race for Every Child 5K in Washington D.C. It would be a celebration to the anniversary of her transplant and an act of appreciation for her doctors. The event was canceled because of inclement weather, so instead a group of friends and family gathered for a barbecue. They wore shirts bearing Tom Cutinella’s football jersey number, 54.
For Hill, running now represents “a way of remembering my donor and not forgetting what I went through and why I went through it. I didn’t get a heart transplant just so I can sit on the couch every day.”