The best Christmas gift of all: A new heart

Twelve-year-old Harley Duffer spent Christmas day like most other kids – opening presents delivered by Santa.

But instead of sitting by the tree at home, Harley celebrated at Children’s, where he had been on the heart transplant list for nearly two weeks. Just when Harley finished unwrapping all of his gifts, he got the news that Dr. Kristine Guleserian had saved the best gift for last. He would be getting a new heart later that day.

“We were stunned; it was a surreal feeling and took a little while to soak in,” said Sonya Duffer, Harley’s mom.

Out-of-the-blue symptoms
Only a couple of months ago, Harley became short of breath and developed asthma-like symptoms. His parents took him to various doctors and finally received a diagnosis of dilated cardiomyopathy on Dec. 2. He had an enlarged heart and would need a new one to survive.

“He was always healthy as a horse,” said Taylor Duffer, Harley’s dad. “The day before we took him to the doctor he was running all over our farm having a ball. It was a real blow when we found out something wasn’t right.”

A heart for others
On the evening of Dec. 25, Dr. Guleserian, surgical director of Pediatric Cardiac Transplantation at Children’s and assistant professor of Cardiothoracic Surgery at UT Southwestern, examined the donor heart to ensure a perfect match for Harley.

“We can’t imagine being in the other mom’s shoes and thinking of someone else when you’ve just lost your child,” Sonya said. “What a giving, selfless person she is. We have many people praying for the donor’s family to have peace in this very difficult time.”

Christmas miracle
As soon as the transplant team assembled, Harley’s surgery began. To show support for her patient, Dr. Guleserian wore a “Heartbeat for Harley” hat that his family had given her.

Dr. Guleserian and the team worked late that night and into the early hours of the morning. After connecting the new heart, Harley’s gift was complete – he had a new, strong heartbeat.

“His heart was three times the size it should have been,” Dr. Guleserian told family and friends in the waiting room. “He’s doing great and is going to the ICU in rock stable condition.”

Since surgery, Harley has continued to improve and if all goes as planned, he will be home just in time to ring in the New Year.

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2 Responses to The best Christmas gift of all: A new heart

  1. The Harrisons December 29, 2009 at 10:23 pm #

    >Congratulations, Harley! Welcome to our "club". ;) What an amazing Christmas blessing! Take care, and God bless.

  2. suzanne December 28, 2009 at 10:05 pm #

    >This happened to our daughter 2 years ago, the exact same thing!!! We were also blessed Christmas Day 2007, our daughter received the news of her new gift of life.
    God bless your family!!!

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