Krissi Oden (left) with her mom, Edna K. Machen, circa 1995. (Photo courtesy of Krissi Oden)
Krissi Oden (left) with her mom, Edna Machen, in the mid-1990s. (Photo courtesy of Krissi Oden)

One of the best dishes to come out of Edna K. Machen’s small-town West Texas home kitchen was chicken fried steak. Her fried chicken was pretty good, too.

For Edna’s daughter, Krissi Oden, and Krissi’s older brother, Mark, and sister, Pam, the Southern home cooking – always slathered with gravy – was a comfort. When Edna wasn’t cooking, she kept the family home impeccably clean. And when she wasn’t cleaning, she’d volunteer at the kids’ schools or get involved in fundraisers. She made each of her children a scrapbook for every year they were in school.

“Growing up, mom was very much a doer, she could not sit still,” Krissi said. “In our house, we always joked you could literally eat off the toilet.”

As the youngest child, and an artistic one who loved to paint, Krissi bonded with her mom, a talented seamstress who made the girls’ prom dresses. Edna found art classes to nurture Krissi’s talent. She also took care of her husband, Larry, who was overweight and had high blood pressure.

Edna spent so much time caring for others that she ignored her own health.

Smoking was a lifelong habit Edna couldn’t give up, even though she tried. She didn’t prioritize exercise or eating healthy. She was naturally slim and had low blood pressure. Edna was sure she wouldn’t succumb to heart attacks like her father or her brother, who died during heart transplant surgery.

While in her 50s, Edna was at her mother’s house for Thanksgiving when she started having neck pain. It kept getting worse and she went to the emergency room. It was a heart attack. Edna had stents placed in her arteries, keeping them open and blood flowing.

A few years later and still in her 50s, Edna had a second heart attack, then bypass surgery to reroute blood around damaged arteries to supply blood to her heart. Her health deteriorated from there. Krissi called Edna every day. But she wasn’t the same person Krissi knew growing up. Edna slowed down. She was less of a doer. Eventually, she spent years going in and out of the hospital.

“There was always something with her health,” Krissi said.

Then married with a child of her own, Krissi struggled with her feelings about her mom’s health. She of course ached to see her ill. But Krissi was also angry that Edna hadn’t taken better care of herself, that she always put herself second, third or fourth.

Krissi was holding Edna’s hand when she died at age 63. Until the end, Edna was thinking about others. The last words she spoke to Krissi were: “What are you reading?” Krissi was 29 and her son, Greysen, was 2.

“I will never put my kids through this if I can help it,” Krissi told herself.

Edna K. Machen had two heart attacks in her 50s. Her health deteriorated and she died at age 63. (Photo courtesy of Krissi Oden)
Edna Machen had two heart attacks in her 50s. She died at age 63. (Photo courtesy of Krissi Oden)

Edna’s absence hit Krissi hard. “I didn’t know how painful it was going to be when she was gone,” she said. “We did everything together. She was my best friend, my rock, my everything.”

Still, Krissi resolved to have something good come from the heartache. She pledged to eat healthier and committed to fitness. She encouraged Greysen, and her daughter, Kat (who was born after Edna died), to do the same.

“They understand this is important,” said Krissi, whose own heart is healthy, though her cholesterol threatens to tick up. “I want my kids to know I fought to be with them as long as I could.”

She teaches Greysen, now 18, and Kat, 7, about good nutrition and building healthy habits. She takes boot camp exercise classes near her home in Denton, Texas, five times a week. She’s leading by example.

“We didn’t talk about those things in my house growing up,” Krissi said. “We talk about it in my house now. My mom’s journey has greatly informed my journey.”

Krissi Oden (right) with her daughter, Kat. (Photo courtesy of Krissi Oden)
Krissi Oden (right) with her daughter, Kat. (Photo courtesy of Krissi Oden)

When Kat sees Krissi exercising, she’ll get out her yoga mat and exercise by her side. Krissi regularly jogs and bikes with her kids. She has pushup contests with Greysen.

“It’s a pretty cool thing to be able to say to my friends, ‘I bet my mom can beat you in a pushup contest,'” Greysen said. “She makes fitness fun.”

Krissi Oden (left) with her son, Greysen. (Photo courtesy of Krissi Oden)
Krissi Oden (left) with her son, Greysen. (Photo courtesy of Krissi Oden)

Krissi has taken such good care of herself that in 2018 – just before her 40th birthday – she was healthy enough to donate a kidney to her teenage stepdaughter, Trinity, who was diagnosed with stage 4 kidney disease.

Unfortunately, the kidney didn’t take and Trinity is on dialysis. It was disappointing for the family, and felt like an emotional crash for Krissi. She had to learn to let go. “Once you give (a kidney), that’s it. You can’t be sad about what happens to it,” she said.

Therapy has helped Krissi – with her grief over losing her mother and the emotions around the kidney not taking and the fact she no longer has one to donate to her other children, should they ever need it.

“I’ve learned it’s OK not to be OK,” Krissi said. Now, when she thinks about her mom, more days than not she recalls the happy memories. She’s thankful Edna led her and her family to a place of health.

“I was so lucky to have the mom that I had,” Krissi said.

Stories From the Heart chronicles the inspiring journeys of heart disease and stroke survivors, caregivers and advocates.