"Someone has a pulse? This child turns blue. "
The terrifying question seems to have stopped the clock as nurses and doctors tried to save Zachary Losee, 15, whose heart had suddenly failed after flu-like symptoms.
It turned out to be just the beginning of a four-month medical odyssey from the poignant story of the Strong Memorial Hospital in Rochester to the re-establishment of Losee's heart transplant at Blythedale Children's Hospital in Toronto. Valhalla.
Just days after his return to Hamlin, Losee and his mother, Julie Perst, detailed the complex world of pediatric heart transplants and urgent efforts to end the organ shortage in New York.
"I have just learned what this new life will be for Zach," said Perst, revealing his laborious re-education as well as restrictions on his diet, medications and health. "It's just, we're a team and he showed me how strong he was, so I have to be as strong as him."
She also described her gratitude for the fact that Zach received a transplant on time, a rarity considering the thousands of New Yorkers who fill the waiting lists of organ recipients every day.
In addition, about 500 New Yorkers on the list die each year due to a shortage of organs throughout the state, according to a report released by USA TODAY NETWORK in New York in 2017.
In addition, pediatric cases under the age of 18 have unique risks because of the limited number of beds in some heart transplant hospitals.
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For example, Perst had to choose between the medical centers of Manhattan, Boston, Pittsburgh and Michigan, the situation of Zach having deteriorated last fall.
Yet, like many transplant patients, the Morgan Stanley Children's Hospital in New York-Presbyterian had only one real option when all the moving parts involved in transplantations were not available. organs have been put in place.
A few months later, Perst was still struggling to describe sitting at Zach's bedside as he clung to life.
"It was so overwhelming to think about what's going to happen to him … I'm so grateful to see him come back," she said, her eyes full of tears.
Symptoms of the flu at heart failure
The symptoms of Zach's flu appeared last October, leading to a visit to the emergency room and a quick discharge like a cold.
Twenty-four hours later, Perst knew something was wrong with his son.
"It was as if Zach had hit a brick wall, he could barely stand up and barely breathe," she said.
They then returned to the emergency room and were transported by ambulance to the pediatric center at Strong Memorial Hospital.
What started as an influenza warning was found in the cardiac catheterization laboratory, a rare but terrible scenario highlighted by heart disease awareness campaigns.
After a six-hour procedure, Zach spent nearly three weeks on an artificial heart and a lung machine while doctors treated his viral myocarditis, an infection that attacks the heart.
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When the drugs failed, Zach joined the approximately 2,000 children on the national waiting list for transplants at the end of November.
With pediatric heart transplants unavailable in Rochester, Zach was airlifted to the Morgan Stanley Children's Hospital to begin the probable expectation of a new heart for several months, despite his medical priority.
It is remarkable that Zach received a heart in just 17 days in early December, which led to happy family visits to the Manhattan hospital during the holidays.
But the celebrations quickly gave way to the realization of the long recovery waiting for Zach.
"It's really amazing how much he's become that teenager I know," Prest said.
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Make the difference
Zach could barely sit down after the transplant, but less than two months later, he got up and recently welcomed guests from the Blythedale Children's Hospital before riding a bicycle and to pedal.
"It feels good and I feel like I'm back, and I feel happier," he said, unveiling a to-do list of reunions with a trip to Olive Garden and meetings with friends and family. the family.
Zach also described her plans to become a cardiologist and get involved in organ donor advocacy after being inspired by Lauren Shields, a Rockland County transplant recipient who has become a pre-student.
"All her stories had an impact on me … just like me, she had viral myocarditis and had to relearn everything," said Zach.
Shields received a heart transplant at the age of 8 in 2009 and became the homonymous state law requiring drivers to check a box. indicating that they would like to register as organ donors or not.
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Previously, New Yorkers could simply skip the issue and continue to have their license processed, a gap that reduced the likelihood of organ donations.
Nearly 9,500 people were on the waiting lists of organ procurement organizations in New York in 2017, reported the USA TODAY network. This made it the third largest waiting list in the country. New York also posted the third lowest donor rate.
Dr. Kathy Silverman, who cared for Zach in Blythedale, explained how Zach's case highlighted the stakes in the fight against the organ shortage in New York.
"It's something that you think happens to seniors, but … that's what happened to a 15-year-old girl, that's no more frightening than that," she said. she declared.
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Follow David Robinson on Twitter: @DRobinsonLoHud