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Congenital heart disease

Kelly Cash was born on March 23, 1983, and doctors soon realized the wall between the left and right sections of the heart had not closed and the mitral and tricuspid valves had not formed correctly, leaving the chambers open to each other. She had her first surgery at 8 months old. As she grew, other surgeries were required, but she lived an active life.

Kelly was known for her love for children, working in her church nursery from the age of 12. “She had a way with children of all ages, but infants were her love, especially those with special needs,” her mother, Leslie, said. Kelly worked for Green Valley Elementary School in Hoover as a teaching assistant in both special education and physical education. Her passion for education and desire for a teaching degree led her to enroll at Jacksonville State University to earn her master’s degree. She completed all her course work, earning a 4.0 GPA in the process. “We have a picture of her in the hospital bed doing her assignments,” Leslie said. “After she passed, they held a special graduation ceremony for us, and she received her degree posthumously.”

Despite top quality care, Kelly’s heart began to fail in 2014. Eventually, she had to be admitted to the hospital to keep her fluid levels down while she waited unsuccessfully for a heart transplant. She was hospitalized for six months, but because of her elevated antibodies, no heart was a match, and she lost her battle on September 4, 2016.

Her parents, Gene and Leslie Cash, chose to give back to the Pediatric and Congenital Heart Center at Children’s of Alabama and establish the Kelly Cash Education Fund, recognizing the importance of having such a specialized clinic dedicated to young patients and the need for continued education for the care teams.

“I feel like if Kelly had been born a little earlier, she wouldn’t have lived through childhood. Medical science wasn’t there yet,” Leslie explained. “If she had been born a little later, she may have lived a long life. They are learning more every day, and it’s phenomenal to tour Children’s and see all they are doing now with the improvements. We don’t want another set of parents to go through what we did. If we can help by helping the nurses, that’s why we are doing this.”

While Kelly had an affinity for nurses who were so important during her hospital stays, her parents are also grateful for all the doctors who cared for Kelly over the years. “One time, she was in the ICU after her first surgery between Thanksgiving and Christmas, and there weren’t any other patients. I came in to find Dr. John Kirklin keeping bedside watch. It’s something to have one of the world’s premier surgeons providing bedside care!” Leslie said.

In the end, Gene and Leslie want Kelly to be remembered for her contagious smile and ability to love others. “If you were her friend, you were her friend forever. She loved with her whole heart,” Leslie said. As one friend said, “Kelly’s heart may have been weak, but it wasn’t small.”

“We want to honor Kelly,” added Gene. “With this fund, we will know that people will remember her for generations to come.”