Freedom for Kasia is racing with Saba

Kasia Jesionkowska (© Private)

Kasia Jesionkowska from Poland has gone through three major heart surgeries – and recently underwent a pulmonary valve replacement without opening the chest. She describes her quality of life as “really good”, and at its very best when she has the strength to exercise. Here is her story.

My name is Katarzyna (Kasia for short) Jesionkowska. I’m 30 years old. I live partly in Warsaw and partly in Skierniewice (70km from Warsaw), where I work. I am a food technologist, working at a research institute. My fields of research are consumer tests and sensory perception of fruit and fruit products.

Beautiful memory

I have Tetralogy of Fallot. I’ve had three operations: the total correction when I was five, a second when I was 16 and the third in 2001, when I was 22. After that I have also had valvuloplastic surgery. Last December I had pulmonary valve replacement without opening the chest. I have some memories from the hospital when I was a child but they didn’t come to me until I was hospitalised for the second time. My first memory connected to my heart is a really beautiful one, from just after the first operation. I was walking in the woods with my mum and brother and our dog, Saba. I remembered that I was racing with Saba, and that I won. I will never forget this feeling. I felt free because I wasn’t tired.

Falling behind – and catching up

I don’t think my childhood was that much different from other children’s. I realised I needed another operation in my first year of secondary school. Until then I was certain that I was healthy and didn’t have any more problems with my heart. I had quite good results in my tests and thought that the situation would last forever. Unfortunately, I started to feel worse and worse. I couldn’t focus on what I was reading. I had to read something 10 times in order to remember it. However, after the operation (pulmonary homograft replacement) I came back to school and was able to catch up.
I had my last operation in my third year of studies. According to the paediatric cardiologists and cardiac surgeons I was doing quite well. However, when I was moved to a hospital for adults, all I heard was that I needed another operation (another homograft replacement). However, as the results of my exercise tests were good, they wanted to wait a little bit. Finally one doctor said “now you don’t want a child, but sooner or later you will start thinking about it”. I trusted her and decided to take the risk of a third operation. I must add that colleagues and lecturers at my studies were very helpful. I asked to be allowed to pass my exams earlier than the others. Thus, I finished the winter term of my studies early and thanks to that I could have an operation without missing out on my studies. Three weeks after my operation I returned to my studies. I caught a cold many times, but thanks to my colleagues I was able to finish my third year on time.


After a year it was discovered that there is a narrowing where the homograft was implanted to the pulmonary valve. Thus, they did a valvuoplasty to broaden it. This treatment widened the pulmonary valve a little bit. Since then I have been convinced that I need another operation, but as my condition has been good they won’t do it yet. I have experienced the enormous progress in cardiac surgery and cardiology. And last December I had the possibility of pulmonary valve replacement without opening the chest – one of the first in Poland. I think this method is really great as it makes the recovery rapid and painless. After a few hours I could walk normally. I could also come back to work very quickly.

Good quality

During childhood, my quality of life was great. I could do anything. I took part in physical education and I was more flexible than other children (due to the year of rehabilitation I did after my first operation). The really bad change in my quality of life was before the second operation. During that time, it was really terrible.
I think my quality of life is really good now. I can cycle long distances; my record is 108 kilometres in one day. I also love hiking in the mountains. Each year since 1998, I have taken part in Polish Woodstock. I am a volunteer and that requires a lot of strength. The weather during the festival changes all the time and we don’t have a lot of time to sleep. The only thing that bothers me is my high susceptibility to weather changes and terrible headaches. However, they may not be related to my heart condition. I think that people really don’t feel that I have any problems with my heart.

Author(s): Marit Haugdahl
Last updated: 2009-03-16