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Transplant turns Pasadena tragedy into a second chance for Kyle Wilkerson

Posted: Wednesday, July 17, 2013 4:00 am | Updated: 4:52 pm, Thu Jul 18, 2013. By ZOE READ Kyle Wilkerson lay in his hospital bed. He had been through two months of painful and debilitating medical treatments for a failing heart. He had been on a transplant list for almost two weeks, and his family was praying for a match. The doctor came through the door with a big smile. She walked over to Kyle’s bed and shook him awake to tell him some good news. “We have a heart. It’s a match,” she told him. “Is it Skylar’s?” Kyle asked. Shocked, the doctor looked at Kyle’s mother, who explained that her son went to the same high school as the 15-year-old boy killed by a hit-and-run driver days earlier in Pasadena. The doctor, bound by confidentiality rules that apply to organ donation, couldn’t tell Kyle if he was going to receive Skylar Marion’s heart. Kyle was 14 years old when he entered University of Maryland Medical Center to fight a heart condition called dilated cardiomyopathy. When medications didn’t help, he was put on the transplant list. Not long after, in April, Skylar was rushed to the same hospital after he was hit by a car on Mountain Road in Pasadena. Skylar died in the hospital, and his father, Mike Marion, decided to donate his organs, not knowing that his heart would go to a boy who lived not too far away from Skylar. The teenagers attended Chesapeake High School, and would often pass each other when out riding their bikes. “It’s hard for a parent to pray for their child to get a heart because it means someone has to die,” said Denise Wilkerson, Kyle’s mother. She knew early on her son might have heart trouble. Kyle’s father, Randy Wilkerson, had the same condition, and got a new heart eight years ago. Doctors told Denise and Randy the condition is genetic, so Kyle might be susceptible. But his parents never imagined he would need a transplant at such a young age. “Kyle was fine,” Denise said. “He was a normal 14-year-old.” At 4, Kyle started playing baseball on the Lake Shore Baseball team. He had just started playing basketball and was in his fourth game when he complained of being short of breath. A couple of days later, he came home from school with a headache, followed by viruslike symptoms. Kyle’s EKG was a little abnormal, so his doctor sent him to Baltimore for more testing. He was in the medical center when he developed blood clots in his heart that spread to his kidney, spleen and brain. That’s when he had a stroke. Kyle’s face was distorted, he couldn’t speak and he suffered from seizures. “His stroke was the one thing I never dealt with. My fear was, ‘Is he going to be limping forever?’ ‘Is he going to write again?’ ” Denise said. “It was watching him suffer, and worrying if he was going to recover.” Kyle quickly recovered from the stroke, but the medications for his heart were not working. He was given a heart pump and was preparing to come home, but his condition wasn’t improving. Getting a heart

Denise said the thought of Skylar saving her son’s life never crossed her mind after the April 12 accident. But when she saw a cluster of hospital staffers standing outside Skylar’s room in the hospital, she had a gut feeling. When her son’s medical team told Denise it was a young heart, she put it together. “My eyes were full of water, and I said, ‘Skylar and Kyle went to school together,’ ” she said. Kyle finds it difficult to find the words to talk about Skylar. It’s not easy for Kyle to talk about receiving his heart from someone he knew, his parents said. But life moves on. “There were days I had to remind myself I had a transplant,” Randy said. “Life gets back to normal so quickly.” Both the Wilkersons and the Marions say that based on what they were told privately by doctors, they believe the heart given to Kyle was Skylar’s. Medical staff aren’t allowed to tell transplant recipients who donated new organs. Learning the identity of a recipient or donor can take a long time, said Jennifer Gelman, spokeswoman for the Living Legacy Foundation. If the recipient wants to contact the donor or his family, they must write a letter to the transplant coordinator. It’s passed on to the foundation, which in turn contacts the donor or his family. This process can take weeks or even years, Gelman said. “I know a donor and recipient that met after 17 years,” she said. Gelman said recipients and donors often find out about each other before the process has finished. “Correspondence between families is changing because of social media,” she said. “It’s our job to make sure donors and recipients are prepared to meet the other person.” Skylar’s father said the transplant has given him a way to find meaning in his son’s death. No arrest has been made by police. “My son saved a 15-year-old’s life,” Mike Marion said. “I couldn’t see him dying in vain without helping other people.” Marion said it’s a difficult time for him right now, knowing the driver who hit Skylar hasn’t been caught. He said he needs to find some closure for himself. “It’s harder every day,” Marion said. “It gets harder on the kids to adjust. It must be hard on Kyle, too.” Long recovery

Kyle, who celebrated his 15th birthday in the hospital, said his 74 days there felt like a year. The worst part was the balloon pump doctors implanted before he received the heart transplant to increase his cardiac output. He said he wasn’t awake during the procedure, but he had to lie still for several days. “I’m always moving. I don’t usually just sit around,” Kyle said. “The whole time I was thinking, ‘This sucks, this sucks, this sucks.’ ” His parents were by his side every day. “It’s excruciating,” Randy said. “I know what I went through, and watching your 15-year-old son go through this — it was bad.” The Wilkerson family said the doctors made Kyle feel at home — like he was a celebrity. When Kyle got Nerf guns for his birthday, one of the nurses drew dart boards on the glass for him to shoot at. The Wilkersons also joked around with the doctors and nurses. One day they bought whoopee cushions. “We found humor in anything,” Denise said. “My husband would tell Kyle to stay positive.” Kyle is now at home, and has recovered quickly, the Wilkersons said. He’s being home-schooled because he wants to catch up on what he missed before returning to school in the fall. “It’s awesome (being home),” he said. “But I’d rather be out somewhere.” Every morning Kyle has to test his vital signs and take a long list of medications. He also has to have biopsies over the course of the year to make sure his heart is healthy. But Kyle said he feels good, and can still play baseball. His parents said that he still has a while to go before he can play baseball as he did before the transplant. “It’s not a race to the finish line,” Randy said. “I wish it was a race,” Kyle said. “I’d actually run for once.” Since his return from the hospital, people in the community have made bracelets, T-shirts and bumper stickers to support him. Strangers have also sent letters and cards, and some have even shown up at their door unannounced. “Never in my life would I expect people I don’t know donate to help pay my son’s medical bills,” Denise said. “But more than the money, when I think about the people praying for him who don’t even know him — that makes me cry.”

Transplant turns Pasadena tragedy into a second chance for Kyle Wilkerson – : Featured.

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