Kristen Donovan was only 1 the first time she had open heart surgery, an operation that was repeated a decade later. Doctors did not know what the future would hold or how much future there would be.
She knew how she wanted to live her life, though. By example, she showed how to be present in ways that are often beyond the grasp of those who have not heard a physician tell them they may not live past their teens.
"Kristen was one of those people who got joy out of everything,'' said her mother, June. "Little things made her happy. Things that we take for granted, she seemed to get excited about. That's one thing about her that was very inspiring. She had that gift and was able to spread it.''
Ms. Donovan, the senior patient coordinator at Boston University's Henry M. Goldman School of Dental Medicine, died Thursday in Brigham and Women's Hospital of multiple organ failure.
She was 30 and had lived in Brookline.
Heading to her job whenever possible was one way Ms. Donovan fended off the inevitabilities of a damaged heart that would never heal.
"She was determined to work, and she got up and went to work every day that she could,'' said her sister, Kelli, of Watertown. "People call in sick because they have a headache or a bad cold. She would go to work the day after she was discharged from being in the hospital for a week.''
Jeffrey W. Hutter, dean of the Goldman School of Dental Medicine, said in a statement that Ms. Donovan "exemplified the spirit of collegiality and caring that we all value so much.''
"She went out of her way to ensure that patients were treated with the utmost professionalism and always went above and beyond expectations to assist,'' he said.
Going above and beyond what she was asked to do was how Ms. Donovan approached life since childhood. If physical exertion placed an activity beyond reach, she found a way to participate.
During school years, "when they'd go out to gym class, they had to walk way out into this field,'' her mother said. "Kristen couldn't do it, and I remember her telling me that kids would give her piggyback rides out there.''
Kristen Leigh Donovan was born in Hartford, and her family moved to the Boston area when she was young.
The youngest of three children, she grew up in Milford.
"She had what they call restrictive cardiomyopathy,'' her mother said. "She was diagnosed around her first birthday.''
Surgeons replaced Ms. Donovan's mitral valve twice while she was young.
"She had other surgeries,'' her mother said. "She faced her disease with courage. She accepted it, but didn't let it completely rule her life.''
And she got on with the business of being a child.
"My brother and sister and I were really close growing up,'' Kelli said. "We played together and invented games, and Kristen was very happy, very happy-go-lucky.''
By high school, keeping pace academically meant studying at home when she could not be in class, something she did well enough to become a National Honor Society inductee before graduating from Milford High School in 1999.
For a while, she was too healthy to be a viable transplant candidate, and then she was not healthy enough. But she encouraged many to be organ donors.
"There was a drive to get people to understand organ transplantation and to mark it on your driver's license,'' her mother said. "Some people felt that if you were an organ donor, the doctors wouldn't try to save you. She wanted to dispel that myth.''
Ms. Donovan attended Boston University after high school.
"She liked being a city girl,'' her mother said. "It empowered her to do certain things that she couldn't do in a smaller town.''
Combining studies with work, Ms. Donovan expanded her circles of friends, impressing all with her dry, quick wit and her culinary skills.
As years passed, Ms. Donovan outlived prognoses and reached the point where her interest in gloomy predictions waned.
"I remember she told me once that she had told her doctors, 'Stop giving me a time when I won't make it,' because she had surpassed every time they had told her,'' her sister said.
"She loved the holidays and planning parties,'' Kelli added. ". . . I was in denial, but I kept thinking she was going to keep beating the odds and getting older with me.''
In addition to her mother and sister, Ms. Donovan leaves her father, Robert of Milford; her brother, Kevin of Somerville; and her grandmother, Phyllis Chapdelaine of Northborough.
A funeral Mass will be said at 10 a.m. Wednesday in St. Mary Church in Milford. Burial will be private.
"The worst thing is to lose a child,'' Ms. Donovan's mother said. "And Kristen wanted to live; she wanted to live and enjoy things. I think her legacy is, 'If you're alive, you still have a chance, and you should try to enjoy life. . . .''
"She wasn't bitter. Every once in a while she needed to cry, but then she'd just get up and go. She had great dignity about herself.''
Bryan Marquard can be reached at email@example.com.