An ill child is a tremendous ordeal for any parent. If that child is sick enough to need an organ transplant, that ordeal can become a parent’s worst nightmare. Patrick and Madelyn Gahan have two daughters Anya and Mya, and live in Marietta, Georgia. At only 15 months old, Mya was diagnosed with dilated cardiomyopathy, which meant her heart wasn’t able to pump as effectively as it should. After a year and a half on medication, Mya would require a heart transplant.
On the eve of Mya’s third birthday, she began to suffer severe heart arrhythmia. Her parents could see her heart beating through her shirt. Patrick and Madelyn rushed Mya to the emergency room, and doctors determined a transplant would be required quickly before her lungs became any weaker.
“The hardest part I think when we first learned about it was just knowing it would be a long long wait, and we wouldn’t have any idea when she would actually get the transplant,” Madelyn explained.
The doctors initially told the Gahans that it would take four to six weeks before a heart would become available for Mya. Little did they know it would ultimately take six months. It was also emotionally difficult knowing someone else’s child would have to pass away in order for Mya to receive a heart transplant. Fortunately, Mya remained happy and active during her stay, and would ride her tricycle around the hospital. After six months, the call finally came that a heart was available.
“It was surreal. It was like shock [and] you don’t really believe it’s happening. It takes a really long time to kick in,” Madelyn recalled.
During the early morning hours of Sept. 3, 2012, Mya underwent a successful heart transplant. Five days later, Mya was able to go home with a new heart. However, doctors informed the Gahans that they could expect the new heart to last 12 years.
“It’s a temporary solution and that’s a little hard to take when you first hear. You get the good news that the transplant went well, and then you get the bad news that it’s not a permanent solution,” Patrick explained.
As a result, the Gahans started an organization called Enduring Hearts in 2014 in an effort to improve the pediatric heart transplant system so children’s new hearts can last longer. The organization focuses on funding research for pediatric heart transplants.
Before Enduring Hearts, there was less research for pediatric heart transplants. It’s the only nonprofit focused on research to help children who are heart transplant recipients. The group has raised more than $3.2 million since inception.
The organization is also developing four less-invasive testing techniques to determine heart rejection, among other initiatives. The ultimate goal is to have the new heart last a lifetime.
Mya is now 10 years old and recently experienced the seventh anniversary of her heart transplant. After her annual checkup, all is well for now.