Wearing a Lakers jersey on Sunday that was given to her by her cardiologist, Dr. James Lee, and kidney transplant doctor, Dr. Jeffrey Veale, medical marvel and Laker of the Day Kelly Seidenkranz only cared to have it signed by her heroes.
Diagnosed with spontaneous coronary artery dissection in 2020, and spending nearly the whole year recovering from a collapsed artery, a heart and kidney transplant and months of physical therapy, Seidenkranz, a Spanish teacher at Canyon High School, is one of four other cases documented on SCAD in the left, main coronary artery as severe as hers in the world.
The condition is still relatively unknown, with doctors researching it for nearly 10 years, according to Seidenkranz. SCAD affects women in their 40s with no or few cardiovascular risk factors.
“The left, main coronary artery leads to the aorta, and that is essential for survival. When I got to the hospital, I had a STEMI heart attack, which is the widowmaker heart attack. So I went into cardiac arrest, they had to revive me twice,” Seidenkranz said. “I thought I was stressed initially. I had no family history of anybody with heart problems in my family. I was really healthy — the doctors even say that’s part of why I survived. I never would have thought I’m having a heart problem because I didn’t know what a heart problem feels like.”
With no physical symptoms during the height of COVID-19, Seidenkranz woke up to experience a slight discomfort in her chest and a heartburn-like feeling on June 29, 2020, before collapsing on the floor later that day.
As she was rushed to the hospital by her husband, little did Seidenkranz know that she would be hospital-bound for the entire summer, spending a couple of days in Henry Mayo Newhall Hospital before transferring to Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center.
With 77 days in the hospital, followed by 15 days in rehab, one month of cardiac therapy and months of physical therapy to relearn how to walk, Seidenkranz beat the odds to survive. Now she makes sure to live her life fully.
Seidenkranz described the moment her doctors, who she credits with saving her life, and Canyon staff unexpectedly walked into her classroom on Jan. 18 to surprise her days before her Lakers game appearance.
“The principal, a couple of assistant principals, all of my world language department, and just a few other teacher friends on campus came with ‘We love Kelly’ signs,” Seidenkranz said. “The students are like, ‘What’s going on?’ I just couldn’t believe what was happening. They presented me with a jersey with ‘Seidenkranz’ on the back of the jersey.”
The Lakers program, in partnership with UCLA Health, “recognizes UCLA Health patients who face serious illnesses with courage, strength and determination,” according to UCLA Health.
With a small group of family and friends who supported her through her journey, Seidenkranz was celebrated for her miraculous recovery by the Lakers with a suite for her and loved ones, a montage of her journey on all the Crypto.com Arena screens and a chance to stand on the court for fans to salute her with applause.
“I was so excited, just absolutely honored, privileged and thrilled. It was the most wonderful thing to have that kind of support. They brought my family down for pictures, then we had a little tour,” Seidenkranz said.
The real celebrities to Seidenkranz — her doctors — came and celebrated with her family, including her husband and kids Joshua, 21, and Kaylyn, 14, and friends.
“I would have rather had their autographs on my jersey than any of the Lakers players any day, and I’m a fan of the Lakers. My whole family likes the Lakers,” Seidenkranz said. “I couldn’t stop smiling the whole night. I felt so supported and so loved and so honored.”
Since her heart transplant on Aug. 5 and kidney transplant on Aug. 6, 2020, she has maximized her opportunities with a new start at life.
“My life changed in that I don’t want to wait to do all the things that I want to do. You never know what the future holds,” Seidenkranz said. “Now I participate in the Transplant Games of America. Every two years, it’s kind of an Olympics for transplant recipients and donors, too. I did it in 2022 and I got gold in cycling and tennis.”
While having strong faith before the day that changed her entire life, her faith strengthened as she was teetering between life and death.
“The real hero and who I know to be the real hero is God. Dr. Lee knows that: He presented it as a miraculous story, because it is. I should not have survived. It’s amazing,” Seidenkranz said. “Everything had to go exactly right. Any little mistake, I could have been dead in a second. And it all did — everything from getting to the hospital right before I went into cardiac arrest to every step along the way, every procedure — everything.”
According to Seidenkranz, Lee says that most doctors have never seen a case like Seidenkranz’s because of how rare her condition is; most patients never make it to the hospital. Nurses at Henry Mayo even apologized to her later on, since they watched her eyes dilate that fateful night and mistook her for dead.
Despite the opinions of medical professionals, Seidenkranz’s perseverance and faith, not only in God, but also in herself, never wavered.
“I knew that I was [in the hospital] to get better — I actually knew I was going to be OK. I never was afraid of death. And this is where my faith comes in; people have near-death experiences,” Seidenkranz said. “I didn’t experience a white light or anything like that, but I just knew God had told me that I’m going to be fine. So I was telling my doctors don’t worry about me, I’m going to be fine.”
Cultivating a community and running into strangers who recognized and prayed for her, including a group of nuns, Seidenkranz appreciates the support of people who were confident in her strength to come back stronger.
“My story is a shared story of a community coming together and rallying around me in support in every way possible. Our church family brought my family meals for weeks and helped with maintenance around the house, and Canyon High School helped raise money to support my family and to help pay for the medical bills,” Seidenkranz said. “Then when I finally came home, I had many of my neighbors out on the street welcoming me home with cheering and posters. Support has been incredible from the very beginning.”
While she may not have seen a white light, Seidenkranz believes in a light at the end of the tunnel.
“With all the little things that we worry about day to day, that was the first thing that changed in my life when I was in the hospital,” Seidenkranz said. “There’s always hope — with God nothing is impossible. It is important to never lose hope. Never give up.”