By the time Aydan and Travis were admitted to the hospital – just weeks apart – the two little boys had what doctors determined to be days to live before their hearts gave out.
Aydan was 3, and Travis was a mere 3 months. Both had serious heart failure that put them in danger of losing their lives.
The pediatric cardiology and heart surgery team at Carolinas HealthCare System’s Levine Children’s Hospital suddenly had two young patients in need of heart transplants. Their job: to keep both boys alive until transplant, with no way of knowing how long it would take for a heart to become available for either of them.
Doctors recommended an interim solution called a mechanical heart, which would essentially pump their blood and keep all their organs functioning until a new heart was available.
“I’ll never forget when the doctor told me that the only way that Aydan would live is if we did a surgery to get him on a mechanical heart,” says Miriam, Aydan’s mom. “But he also told me that there was another mom, Allyson, just a few rooms down, whose little baby was just put on that same mechanical heart, and that I should meet her.”
A Bond Forms
Miriam and Allyson — Travis’ mother — met, and the two moms struck up a friendship that soon developed into what Allyson calls a sisterhood.
At first, they’d check in when they saw each other in the hallways. Then, they started sitting in each other’s rooms. As time went on, they’d look in on each other’s son even when the other wasn’t there.
“I have my husband, and I have the nurses and doctors,” says Allyson. “But as a mom, it really helps to have another mom who knows just what we’re going through and who can be there for me and my baby.”
Once the boys were attached to their mechanical hearts, their health quickly got better. Aydan was able to walk around the hospital floor, blow bubbles, dance and play with his nurses. And with Travis no longer restricted to a hospital bed filled with wires and tubes, Allyson was able to hold her baby again.
Those sweet moments brought relief to both moms. But during that time, they couldn’t help but think about how much longer they’d have to wait for their boys to get the new hearts they needed.
“The waiting is always the hardest part,” says Kati Robinson, heart transplant coordinator at Levine Children’s Hospital. “We see the stress and agony these families go through waiting for that call; and while we do everything we can to keep them as positive as possible, we know how draining it is on them.”
Worth the Wait
Fortunately, the wait was soon over – at least for one of them. After nearly four months, Allyson got the call she’d been dreaming about: a heart was available for Travis.
“My husband and I were both so emotional,” says Allyson. “For months, we’d been waiting for that news.”
After a six-hour procedure, Drs. Thomas Maxey, cardiovascular surgeon, and Gonzalo Wallis, pediatric cardiologist, walked out of the operating room and told the family the good news. The new heart was in Travis’ chest and he was doing wonderfully.
For Travis and his family, the worst was over. But for Miriam and Aydan, the wait continued.
Then, exactly two weeks later – following the same uncanny timing that had brought both moms to the hospital – it was Aydan’s turn to get a new heart.
“It’s like our journeys were right in sync with each other,” says Allyson. “You couldn’t time it more perfectly if you tried.”
Aydan’s donor heart was out of state, so MedCenter Air, Carolinas HealthCare System’s patient transport service, sprang into action to get the heart in enough time. Donor hearts are only viable for a few hours after they become available, making swift, seamless coordination between the medical team and the transport team critical.
“It’s a very intricate ballet of coordinating two surgeries in two different cities – with an airplane in the middle,” says Dr. Wallis.
The teams worked quickly to get the heart to Charlotte, and Aydan’s transplant was a success. Once his new heart was in place, Miriam and Allyson walked hand in hand into his room to see him for the first time.
Both boys had their new hearts, and now it was time to go home. Aydan came first – and Allyson saw firsthand what she had to look forward to.
“When Aydan went home, I was like, ‘Yes! They saw it through,’” says Allyson. “And I knew that our time was coming shortly thereafter.”
A Second Chance
Now that Travis and Aydan have gotten their transplants, both boys are happy, healthy and at home.
“Our team has gotten to know both of these boys very well,” says Dr. Maxey. “So it’s such a special moment for us when we know that they have a new heart, and that we can be a part of the process that allows them to have a second chance to live.”
Allyson and Miriam know they’ll never forget each other – or take for granted that their children are alive thanks to the generosity of donor families. They are now advocates for organ donation, and encourage everyone, no matter their age, to get on the donor list.
“Aydan and Travis are here today because somebody was selfless in a moment of pain,” says Dr. Wallis. “Because of their sacrifice, both boys have the chance to have a great life.”
For Allyson and Miriam, an experience that started when they were strangers has brought them closer than they could have imagined.
“The connection I have with Miriam goes far beyond our boys,” says Allyson. “We’ve created a relationship that’s lifelong. Birthdays, cookouts – she’s going to be there. And I’m going to be there for her.”