Everything can change in a heartbeat.
Earlier this spring, Eagle River's Kristin Bozarth started feeling "a bit under the weather." The busy 35-year-old mother of two active boys had a cough and felt tired, but she soldiered on, continuing to run the household in Alaska while her husband, Scott, worked out of state for the Federal Aviation Administration.
"She was doing everything — taking our kids to scouts, taking the kids to swim practice, we have three dogs …" Scott said.
Scott Bozarth said his wife is someone who simply puts her head down and gets things done without complaint.
"She's not an emotional person, she's just stoic, steady," he said. "That's her character."
From bad to worse
The day before Scott returned home, Kristin finally decided to visit the doctor's office, where a chest x-ray showed fluid in her lungs. After taking a couple days off from work as a social studies teacher at the Anchorage STrEaM Academy, her condition declined quickly.
On May 18 she was admitted to the emergency room in Anchorage. There, the news was devastating: The fluid in Kristin's lungs was caused by a lack of circulation. Her heart was failing.
"It happened so fast," Scott said.
Kristin spent two days at the cardiac intensive care unit in Anchorage before she and Scott were flown to the University of Washington Medical Center in Seattle.
"I didn't even have time to go home and get a toothbrush," he said in a phone interview Saturday from Seattle.
At UWMC, doctors installed a temporary pump to help keep Kristin's heart going. Scott said she's currently stable and will need several weeks to heal up from surgery. And her fight is just beginning.
"She still needs a transplant — there's just no way around that," he said.
Kristin is on a waiting list for a new heart, but the process could take months.
"Hopefully it's not that long," he said.
A life in chaos
The family's sudden medical emergency has thrown the Bozarths' lives into chaos. Scott said they're selling their home in the South Fork Eagle River Valley to help pay expenses that could run into the seven figures.
Luckily, they've had a lot of family help: Kristin's sister lives near the hospital, and both Scott and Kristin's moms "dropped everything" to help with the boys, John and Eli.
They've also started — reluctantly at first — a GoFundMe.com account to help pay the astronomical costs associated with a heart transplant.
Scott Bozarth said his family has insurance, but that he's been told the ongoing expenses will far outstrip his ability to pay.
"Just before we left Anchorage, the head cardiac nurse came in the room and gave us a talk about what we should expect," he wrote on the GoFundMe page. "One thing she hit on several times was that we had to start a crowd fund as soon as possible, because not even the best insurance covers all the unforeseen costs associated with a heart transplant and the life changes that follow."
Scott said he and Kristin were initially against the idea.
"We did not want to do this," he said.
According to consulting firm Milliman, which tracks organ transplant costs in the U.S., the average wait for a heart transplant is 191 days, and the average cost is nearly $1.4 million.
As the reality of their situation set in, Scott said the couple realized they had no choice but to reach out to their friends and neighbors.
"We're definitely going to need that help," he said.
Outpouring of support
The morning after setting up the account, Scott said he and his wife were shocked to see how many people had already donated to their cause.
"That was when we sorta had our breakdown moment," he said.
The money has poured in — from strangers, former students, Navy buddies Scott hasn't seen in years. Real estate agent Gary Becker is selling the family's home commission free. The widow of a sailor who died on the USS John McCain gave $5,000. Anonymous co-workers have donated leave time. Strangers have reached out with kind messages of support. One of Kristin's former students chipped in five bucks.
In a little more than a week, the page had raised more than $100,000 from 645 donors.
Each gesture — large or small — is deeply felt, Scott said.
"The feeling you get when hundreds of people start sending their support or their thoughts and prayers — it's life-changing," he said.
The support has helped provide much-needed strength in the family's time of need.
"If you're going to cry tears of joy, that's a lot better than having these sorrowful types of feelings," he said.
After seeing so many people reach out, Scott said he and his wife shared a pledge.
"We said, 'When this is all said and done, we need to be better people,'' he said.
Scott said he's "scrolled past" online calls for help before. Now that he's in a position of needing help, he said his outlook has changed.
"Never will I do that again," he said.
He said he and his wife want to express their gratitude for all the help and love their family has received during the past few weeks.
"It's just mind-blowing how kind everyone has been through this," he said. "We're thankful beyond words."
For now, the family must wait while Kristin heals from her recent surgery and hopes for a matching donor heart.
"The road ahead is going to be exceedingly difficult for Kristin and our entire family," Scott wrote on the crowdfunding page, where he said he'll try to post updates about Kristin's condition.
But if anyone has the strength to get through such a trying time, Scott said it's Kristin, a strong-willed wife, mother, daughter, sister, teacher and friend who has never let any obstacle stand in her way.
"She's a charger."
Email Star editor Matt Tunseth at email@example.com or call (907) 257-4274