A 16-year-old from Lakeland is at the top of the list for a heart transplant. Doctors at Shands Hospital say Garrett Leopold must have the transplant to survive.
But what makes the procedure even more unusual is that this will be Garrett's second heart transplant. His first came at just 3 months old.
"A lot of things come to your mind," said Garrett. "It's crazy, but I'm here, so I'm not complaining."
THE LIFE OF A TRANSPLANTED HEART
Doctors say transplanted hearts only last an average of 15 to 20 years. But with more pediatric heart transplants like Garrett's, the demand for replacement hearts is rising and donors aren't easy to find. They must be the right size and blood type, and their families must make the decision to donate organs at a difficult time.
"My prayer is that if they do have to go through a tragedy, they'll take the time to think that one child, their child, could save not just one life, but many lives," offered Susan Leopold, Garrett's mother.
FIGHTING FOR LIFE
Garrett has faced a lot of challenges. Six years after his first transplant, he was diagnosed with Lymphoma. He underwent chemotherapy and went on lead a near-normal life until a couple of months ago when he felt winded and tired. That's when his doctors found that his first transplanted heart was worn out and that he would need another.
Garrett admits it hasn't been easy.
"You're terrified and scared," said Garrett. "You ask yourself, 'Why me?'"
"I always tell him that you'll never know fully until, one day, you'll see how many people you've touched through your story, of being strong and having the faith you need to get through it," said his mother.
IN FOR THE LONG HAUL
Garrett has been at Shands since September 27 and it's where he will stay until after the surgery. Doctors ordered him hospitalized because he must have drugs administered intravenously 24-7 to keep his ailing heart beating. He misses his friends back in Lakeland.
Pediatric cardiologist Dr. Gonzalo Wallis says Garrett's prognosis is good if a heart can be found soon.
"I think he'll do very good after the transplant. I'm just nervous in between now and the transplant. I don't want him getting sick in between."
People who visit Garrett are asked if they have a cold or anything else that might be harmful.
For now, all Garrett and his family can do is wait. The best Christmas gift would be a new heart.
WTTG FOX 5 & myfoxdc
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