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A Son's Heart Transplant: A Family's Journey - Part One

Photo: David Cary

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One hundred twenty-one thousand, one hundred twenty-threeThat’s the number of people waiting to receive an organ transplant as of February 11, 2014. There are so many people in our society that do not understand what "waiting" truly means in the lives of those on the waiting list. By the time a person is actually allowed on the list, they are often critically ill and then, then, the wait begins.

Will they make it... or will they expire before receiving the gift of life? To better understand the reality of an organ recipient, I'd like to share the story of a family that's very dear my heart... It's Part One of the story of Trent, a heart transplant recipient with a true Outlive Yourself spirit. What I wanted was to write a story from the perspective of reading his father’s day-by-day diaries of the event; what I encountered was a life changing journey through the eyes of a fighting parent. 

A Father Receives the News

David was having a normal day when he received a call from his wife, Valerie. Valerie was calling to tell David that she was taking their son, Trent, to the doctor. Trent was a normal eleven-month old boy, usually happy and very active, but that day something was different. He wasn’t his usual self, and mom - following her motherly instinct - was concerned that he wasn't feeling well. Just an hour later, Valerie was calling David back to let him know that she was coming to pick him up - they were taking their son to Children’s Medical Center, immediately.

After a few x-rays and tests, the doctors discovered that Trent’s heart was enlarged. He was admitted into the ICU and hooked up to a ventilator. The doctors had no idea why he was having issues, which was of no help to the situation. When David and Valerie first saw their son lying completely still with all of the machines breathing for him, they knew something was obviously wrong. Seeing their precious baby boy this way was heart breaking for them. All they wanted was an answer, but there were none.

The Roller Coaster

For four long days, it was a roller coaster of hope… followed by setbacks. Trent’s parents received tremendous support from friends, family, and their church; however, early on the fourth day bad news came.  

At four in the morning, David was called into the hospital to the news that his son's heart had completely stopped beating. At the time, Trent’s cardiologist was racing to get to the hospital, but he later shared with David that he really didn’t expect to find Trent alive upon his arrival to the boy. The doctors fought to bring him back to life and after nine minutes, miraculously, they succeeded. When David arrived to the hospital, the doctors told him his son’s coloring was good and vital signs were excellent. All good news - especially for what the little boy had just been through - but Trent had few reserves left.

Time passed slowly while David and Valerie continued to wait for answers, but hope... hope was fading quickly.

A Father’s Journal

Recollecting his day, David sat down in the evening to write:

“I could not even glance at your picture. The tube was back in; the tape was back on your face. Your heart pumped and your chest heaved; but your beautiful toes and soft fingers were motionless and cold. Your lips were blue. Your eyelids were open just slightly, as though you were peeking out at us for help. It was just like Monday afternoon (except this time you had just died and were brought back to life).”

Later that afternoon more tests were run. The news was devastating to both David and Valerie. The tests concluded that Trent's heart performance was very low, with all the machines keeping him alive, and his left ventricle was no longer pumping.

Enduring a devastating day, David closed his journal entry, writing:

“The whole day raced by slowly. Many tears. Many fears.”

Preparing for the Worst

The sixth day was the first time David and Valerie heard the dreadful words they feared so much... their son Trent may need a heart transplant. Day seven arrived and the doctors were working on getting Trent’s name on the waiting list for a heart transplant. 

A process that involves so many different factors and criteria, from blood type and heart size, to the condition of other organs and more, Trent’s parents quickly learned the reality of becoming an organ recipient. The many details make for a complex process that has to be carried out in a very short amount of time. Once on the list, then the waiting begins.

When, or if, a suitable heart becomes available - that's the appropriate blood type and meets all the required critera - then a member of the transplant team quickly travels to retrieve the removed heart from the donor, usually flying it back on ice, to return for an immediate transplant into the recipient. The recipient’s chest must be opened and ready for the new heart as it arrives. Timing is critical and the condition of the recipient has to be in good enough condition to endure the surgery.

Trent’s condition was fading quickly.

It was the first night that David and Valerie began preparing for the possibility of Trent’s death...

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Trent's story is one of tears and triumph, and Part One is just the beginning of the glimpse of a heart recipient's life, sharing the journey of one family touched by organ donation.

Read A Son's Heart Transplant:  A Family's Journey - Part Two

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