This column was published in the Tri-Valley Herald and the Valley Times in early August, 2009.
Danville’s Jacque Blair calls it both a tragedy and a miracle.
Seated in a waiting area overlooking a lush patio garden at Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital at Stanford, Blair and her husband, Rick, described the series of incidents surrounding the failing heart of their 14-year-old son, Nolan..
“He first had difficulty breathing and an elevated heart rate in late May,” Jacque said. “He’d never shown any signs of heart trouble, but tests showed he had an enlarged heart and an abnormal rhythm.” By mid-June, Nolan’s heart rate was over 100 beats per minute.
First treated at Children’s Hospital in Oakland, Nolan was transferred to Stanford on July 11 after 19 days of medication failed to resolve the issues.
“His heart continued to struggle,” Rick said, “and he couldn’t keep down any food or liquids.” Complicating matters, Nolan’s kidneys and liver showed signs of inadequate blood flow.
So on July 13, surgeons at Stanford operated and decided to implant a temporary left ventricle device to help Nolan’s heart pump blood.
Awaking the next day, the teenager was unable to talk due to a breathing tube inserted down his throat, so he used a small white board to write out questions about the surgery. When he learned the ventricle device was temporary and that he would need a heart transplant, his eyes grew big.
“Will it be a real heart?” he wrote. Yes, his father answered. A human heart.
“From who?” Nolan asked.
As Rick told his son that the donor would probably be someone about his age and blood type, and would be someone who had just died, a tear formed in Nolan’s eye as he realized he would never be able to thank the donor.
About a week later, on July 24, the Blair family learned that a donor heart had just become available.
“The doctors said it was a good match,” said Jacque. “Unfortunately, Nolan had a fever during the night and had developed antibodies to heparin,” a medicine that reduces the chance of blood clots after surgery.
The doctors weighed the high risks and decided to go ahead and prepare for the transplant while the heart was in transit. Then, as if the risks weren’t already high enough, the surgeons discovered that the left ventricle device had become infected with staphylococcus.
“They immediately packed the area with antibiotics,” Rick said. The donor heart arrived around 6:30 in the evening.
By 12:30 a.m. on July 25, Nolan’s new heart was in place and pumping. Within a few days, the teen was eating ice cream and taking his first tentative steps up and down the hall.
Doctors have since told the Blairs that if the donor heart had not become available that day, the growing staph infection within Nolan’s heart would have precluded him from ever getting a heart transplant and a second chance at life.
“The timing was amazing. We don’t know the tragedy that occurred to make this donor heart available,” said Jacque. “But we celebrate the life of the donor and the miracle of life this heart brings.”
To create similar miracles in case of tragedy, readers are encouraged to sign up to donate organs at www.donatelifecalifornia.org or by calling 866-797-2366.