Finishing her 16th Marathon, 20 Years Post-Stroke

A tiny hole in Christy Kirk’s heart threatened to take her life. Our Amplatzer Occluder helped take it back.

Finishing her 16th Marathon, 20 Years Post-Stroke

Healthy Heart|May.22, 2023

If you saw Christy Kirk crossing the finish line of the 127th Boston Marathon race, you wouldn’t see everything she had to fight through just to be there.

That moment, hugging her four kids, a unicorn medal being placed around her neck, couldn’t feel further away from this time 10 years ago, or 20 years ago.

Not just because Kirk was racing to raise money and awareness for stroke victims with Tedy’s Team, or because she qualified with some of the best athletes in the world. But also because she finished this race on the 20-year anniversary of the stroke that could have taken all these triumphs away from her.

As you’re about to find out, it took real strength to get to that celebration. But, soaking in the scene on Boylston Street, all Kirk could feel was gratitude.

Learning to Run

Let’s go back 20 years. At 27, Kirk was newly married and about to graduate from dental school. Life was just getting started — and she felt it was off to a strong start, at that.

Growing up in New England, Kirk spent her childhood skiing, boating and swimming. In fact, she stuck with swimming all the way through to earning a spot on the Division I team at the University of Richmond. However, a partial tear of a muscle in her shoulder led her to exit the sport.

“I didn’t know what to do with myself,” she said. “I had been training for so long, I needed to stay in shape.”

She had grown up watching her dad run, but “it was never my sport.” Her injury made her reconsider, and she picked up running to de-stress and get exercise.

And, as she did with swimming, stuck with it. 

A Stroke of Fate

Between running, studying in a demanding program and beginning her new family, Kirk was a perfect picture of a happy, healthy twentysomething.

A perfect picture, that is, until she suffered a stroke.

“It took me by complete surprise. I’m not sure I knew what was happening,” she said. “Your brain knows that something is very wrong. I thought maybe it was a brain aneurysm.”

It’s not surprising that she didn’t suspect a stroke. “I was young, and you take that for granted,” she said. She didn’t think much of cardiac health at the time, as many young people don’t.

The cause: a small hole between two chambers in her heart. She experienced some speech stuttering and dulled reflexes in the aftermath, but that all went away with time.

What stayed, however, were the psychological effects of enduring such a terrifying health episode. She remembered a moment of panic once when she felt her hands going numb. It turned out that the elastic she was wearing on her arms was just on too tight. “I was anxious all the time,” she said.

Not Missing a Beat

After her stroke, Kirk saw a cardiologist who recommended open-heart surgery. “I would’ve had to delay my residency if I got surgery,” she said. “My parents pushed for a second opinion, and a Boston Cambridge University cardiologist said, ‘No, you don’t need surgery. You need this device.’ ”

The device was our Amplatzer Septal Occluder, which helps close atrial septal defects (ASD) — the hole that contributed to Kirk’s stroke — and helps prevent future episodes. Compared with open-heart surgery, the minimally invasive procedure to insert the Amplatzer device would get Kirk back to her best self with less recovery time and a lower degree of difficulty.

“I feel so blessed for that,” Kirk said. “I had so much I wanted to do. I moved to Boston and started my residency at Boston University after that, kept running, and had four kids without having to delay my life.”

And run she did. While she qualified for and was planning to run the Boston Marathon before her stroke threw a wrench in that plan in 2003, she came back to the sport more motivated than ever.

Kirk set her sights on celebrating the 10-year anniversary of surviving her stroke by running the 2013 Boston Marathon with Tedy’s Team to raise stroke awareness. Tragically, the race turned into the complete antithesis of a celebration.

Being Boston Strong

Kirk qualified for and ran the 2013 Boston Marathon just seven months after giving birth to her fourth child. “I wanted to celebrate 10 years of good health,” she recalled.

But history will remember that day for what was lost.

“I had just crossed the finish line and went to a victory party at the Lenox Hotel and was feeding my infant,” she remembered. “Then, the whole building shook.”

That night, Kirk didn’t sleep a wink, or even lie down after running 26.2 miles.

“I still think about it a lot,” she said. “I didn’t want to run the Boston Marathon again after that.”

But Kirk’s inner circle eventually convinced her to run it the next year. That ended up being a powerful experience, she said, “but I left the finish line as soon as I could after finishing the race. I wanted to get over my fear, but I couldn’t.”

Suddenly, what was meant to be an opportunity for health awareness became something much bigger.

A Finish to Remember

In 2023, on the 20-year anniversary of her stroke and the 10-year anniversary of the 2013 race, Kirk returned to the starting line to cast off the weight of those two events, by doing something for herself and others.

She crossed a marathon finish line for the 16th time in her life, beaming from ear to ear, throwing her arms around her four kids and husband.

“I’m just so grateful. I’m so happy that I made it here and can do this,” she said.

Kirk will be the first to tell you that she’s healthier now than even the dedicated athlete she was at 27. She had to fight, and fight hard, to be here, 20 years later, crossing that finish line.

Looking at her on Boylston Street that day, Kirk is the picture of what we can do with good health.



The AMPLATZER™ Septal Occluder is a percutaneous, transcatheter, atrial septal defect closure device intended for the occlusion of atrial septal defects (ASD) in secundum position or patients who have undergone a fenestrated Fontan procedure and who now require closure of the fenestration. Patients indicated for ASD closure have echocardiographic evidence of ostium secundum atrial septal defect and clinical evidence of right ventricular volume overload (such as, 1.5:1 degree of left-to-right shunt or RV enlargement).


The AMPLATZER™ Septal Occluder is contraindicated for the following:

  • Any patient known to have extensive congenital cardiac anomaly which can only be adequately repaired by way of cardiac surgery.
  • Any patient known to have sepsis within 1 month prior to implantation, or any systemic infection that cannot be successfully treated prior to device placement.
  • Any patient known to have a bleeding disorder, untreated ulcer, or any other contraindications to aspirin therapy, unless another antiplatelet agent can be administered for 6 months.
  • Any patient known to have a demonstrated intracardiac thrombi on echocardiography (especially left atrial or left atrial appendage thrombi).
  • Any patient whose size (such as, too small for transesophageal echocardiography probe, catheter size) or condition (active infection, etc.) would cause the patient to be a poor candidate for cardiac catheterization.
  • Any patient where the margins of the defect are less than 5 mm to the coronary sinus, inferior vena cava rim, AV valves, or right upper lobe pulmonary vein.


  • Physicians must be prepared to deal with urgent situations, such as device embolization, which require removal of the device. This includes the availability of an on-site surgeon.
  • Embolized devices must be removed as they may disrupt critical cardiac functions. Embolized devices should not be withdrawn through intracardiac structures unless they have been adequately collapsed within the sheath.
  • Use on or before the expiration date noted on the product packaging.
  • This device is sterilized using ethylene oxide and is for single use only. Do not reuse or resterilize. Attempts to resterilize the device may result in device malfunction, inadequate sterilization, or patient harm.
  • Do not use the device if the packaging sterile barrier is open or damaged.
  • Do not release the AMPLATZER™ Septal Occluder from the delivery cable if the device does not conform to its original configuration, or if the device position is unstable or if the device interferes with any adjacent cardiac structure (such as Superior Vena Cava (SVC), Pulmonary Vein (PV), Mitral Valve (MV), Coronary Sinus (CS), aorta (AO)). Recapture the device and redeploy. If still unsatisfactory, recapture the device and either replace with a new device or refer the patient for alternative treatment.
  • Implantation of this device may not supplant the need for Coumadin™ in patients with ASD and paradoxical emboli.
  • The use of echocardiographic imaging (TTE, TEE, or ICE) is required.
  • Balloon sizing should be used to size the atrial septal defect using a stop-flow technique. Do not inflate the balloon beyond the cessation of the shunt (such as, stop-flow). DO NOT OVERINFLATE.
  • Patients with a retro-aortic rim of less than 5 mm in any echocardiographic plane, or patients in whom the device physically impinges on (i.e. indents or distorts) the aortic root, may be at increased risk of erosion.
  • Do not select a device size greater than 1.5 times the echocardiographic-derived ASD diameter prior to balloon sizing.


  • The use of this device has not been studied in patients with patent foramen ovale.
  • Use standard interventional cardiac catheterization techniques to place this device.
  • Placement of the AMPLATZER™ Septal Occluder may impact future cardiac interventions, for example transeptal puncture and mitral valve repair.
  • This device contains nickel-titanium alloy, which is generally considered safe. However, in vitro testing has demonstrated that nickel is released from this device for a minimum of 60 days. Patients who are allergic to nickel may have an allergic reaction to this device, especially those with a history of metal allergies. Certain allergic reactions can be serious; patients should be instructed to seek medical assistance immediately if they suspect they are experiencing an allergic reaction. Symptoms may include difficulty in breathing or swelling of the face or throat. While data is currently limited, it is possible that some patients may develop an allergy to nickel if this device is implanted.
  • MR Conditional to 3.0 Tesla

Caution should be used if an MRI is performed with a magnetic field of >3.0 tesla. Through non-clinical testing, the AMPLATZER™ device has been known to be MR Conditional at field strengths of 3.0 tesla or less with a maximum whole-body-averaged specific absorption rate (SAR) of 3.83 W/kg at 1.5 tesla and 5.57 W/kg at 5.0 tesla for a 20-minute exposure to a B1 of 118 μT. The AMPLATZER™ device should not migrate in this MR environment. Non-clinical testing has not been performed to rule out the possibility of migration at field strengths higher than 3.0 tesla. In this testing, the device produced a temperature rise of 1.1°C at 1.5 tesla and 1.6°C at 5.0 tesla. MR image quality may be compromised if the area of interest is in the exact same area or relatively close to the position of the device.


Potential adverse events may occur during or after a procedure placing this device may include, but are not limited to:

Air embolus; Allergic dye reaction; Anesthesia reactions; Apnea; Arrhythmia; Cardiac tamponade; Death; Embolization; Fever; Hypertension/ hypotension; Infection including endocarditis; Need for surgery; Pericardial effusion; Perforation of vessel or myocardium; Pseudoaneurysm including blood loss requiring transfusion; Stroke; Tissue erosion; Thrombus formation on discs; Valvular regurgitation.