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Keough freshman dies of heart trouble

Claire Heininger | Monday, January 17, 2005

A Notre Dame freshman who received a heart transplant while in high school died Friday from complications during surgery in Indianapolis.

Dan Kish, 19, a graduate of Penn High School in Mishawaka, experienced partial heart failure during winter break and spent time in the hospital, said freshman Matt Elliott, one of Kish’s close friends from his dorm, Keough. Kish traveled to an Indianapolis hospital Friday for surgery to implant a pacemaker, which would regulate his heartbeat, Elliott said.

In an e-mail to friends before the surgery, Kish did not indicate the procedure could be life-threatening, Elliott said.

“I’m sure there was a risk involved, but from the e-mail I’m sure he was fully expecting to come back,” Elliott said. “He said barring unforeseen circumstances [he] should be back Saturday … this was just a shock.”

Kish stopped by Keough earlier last week, on Jan. 11, to visit his friends and to inform them he was withdrawing from Notre Dame for the semester, Elliott said.

“He told me he was debating coming back,” Elliot said. “I’m sure he didn’t want something like what happened over break to happen at school.”

Kish needed another heart transplant before he could return to a normal school routine, Elliott said. Last semester, he added, Kish was constantly carrying a cell phone that would ring when a new heart became available.

“As soon as he [would have received] a call, he’d [have been] in a car going to Indy right then,” Elliott said, adding that his friend had to stay within a three-hour drive of the city at all times.

Keough rector Father Peter Jarret and Kish’s resident assistant Danny Richter informed Kish’s roommates, freshmen Peter Mueller and Brendan Ryan, Elliott and other close friends about the tragedy at about noon on Saturday.

“They were pretty shocked – you could see it in their faces,” Richter said. “I knew coming in that he had issues with his heart … but he didn’t seem sick … I had no idea this was coming.”

Though he was also aware of Kish’s transplant, Jarret said the freshman seemed fairly healthy.

“As far as we were concerned, he was no different than any other student,” Jarret said. “He was involved in the life of the hall, the life of the section … had lots of friends, was very outgoing.”

Kish was also very responsible about taking precautions to ease the strain on his heart, such as not participating in physically challenging Freshman Orientation activities, Richter said. It was also difficult at times for the freshman to walk to Stepan Center for their early-morning classes and tests together, Elliott said.

But for the most part, close friends remembered Kish as a good-natured, caring person who didn’t want to draw attention to himself or his heart problems.

“He never complained,” Mueller said. “He often tried to pass it off as a joke – I for one never would have gotten the impression that it was a serious condition.”

Elliott said Kish simply had “the greatest laugh I’ve ever heard in my entire life.”

“You heard that laugh, and you started laughing,” he said.

Richter said the freshman stopped by his room occasionally to talk, and praised Kish – a non-Catholic – for having a strong sense of his own faith.

“He was a really nice guy – smart, caring,” Richter said. “I’m going to miss him.”

After Kish’s death, both Richter and Jarret spoke with his family – including his older brother, Notre Dame senior Jeff Kish – but chose to give them “time and space” while offering condolences and prayers, Jarret said.

A memorial mass will be held for Kish at 10 p.m. Tuesday in Keough. Jarret said he would also inform dorm residents about local funeral arrangements when they are made.