Many of her fellow Davidson alumni might not know that Lauren Bouffard Young '04 was born with a heart condition – hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, or HCM for short.
"Basically, the muscles in my heart were too thick, so it took a lot more effort to properly function," she said.
At age 13, she had open-heart surgery at Columbia University Medical Center in New York. By the time she enrolled at Davidson, she was used to the modifications to lifestyle that HCM required.
"I never thought of myself as very sick," she said.
Still, the year she lived in a dorm "down the hill," she did drive to class some days. But in general, "modification" rather than "limitation" was her lens for life. After earning an economics degree, she worked as a financial analyst in Charlotte and San Francisco, earned an M.B.A. from Harvard Business School, and joined a private equity firm in New York City in 2011 as a vice president focusing on investments in the technology, media and telecom sectors.
And she married Ward Young in late 2012.
"We were nine months in when the craziness started," Young said of their newlywed year. "Luckily, he's my rock."
In June 2013, she crashed.
"All of a sudden, it just gets to be too much," she explained. "My other organs were compensating for my weak heart. Then, my heart got so weak that there was no cushion left."
She responded well to hospital treatments and got stronger. She "presented well," but tests showed how weak her heart really was. Transplant discussions began immediately, and her "data points" took her to the top of the transplant lists, which are maintained by state.
At Cedars Sinai Hospital in Los Angeles, the wait time was estimated at two weeks. Off the Youngs flew, Ward's work laptop in hand and a strong network of friends offering them support at every turn.
As it turned out, they did not have to wait even two weeks for a transplant.
"I was told we had the heart after one day of being on the list," Young recalled. "I was listed that Friday and we were told they accepted a heart for me Saturday night. I was transplanted Sunday, with a heart from a 35-year old donor from LaJolla.
"The whole experience is hard to describe. You're so drugged up. After the surgery is the worst I've ever felt in my life," Young said. "It just takes every ounce of your body to push through. Getting up and walking on day one was the hardest thing I've ever done....
"But then I started to feel amazing. I still remember going up my first stairs with a rehab nurse and crying (I was on a lot of drugs!) because it was such an awesome feeling. Once you start feeling better, you're on top of the world, like I still feel. It's hard to have a bad day. Now, I get to do even cooler stuff that I never dreamed of."
Within weeks, she was playing tennis and working out at a nearby fitness center in Beverly Hills. Cardiovascular workouts were a particular challenge at first.
"Transplanted hearts are deinnervated," Young explained, "which means the normal paths through which the brain and heart communicate that the heart needs to speed up or slow down based on warming up or down cannot be replicated in a transplanted heart. So the body has a back up hormonal system but it's much slower – so I can do a quick sprint but my heart won't realize it for about 15 to 20 seconds, and then all of a sudden there is a big adjustment. So getting used to that was at first daunting. I needed to teach myself not to freak out when my heart rate started to rise! But now it's much easier."
Now her SoulCycle classes in New York are an integral part of a fitness regimen that includes road races on foot and by bicycle.
"I am not breaking any records with my times but finishing gives me such an amazing sense of accomplishment," Young said. "And as Ward tells me, I always place first in the heart transplant division of my age group!
"I am just so grateful for good doctors and good friends and a good support system-and especially for Ward," Young said. "Going into it, I had no idea what life would look like. Now, fast-forward to a year later and we have to pinch ourselves because life is so great."