Last spring, Abby Doman was a typical, almost 12 year old girl living in St. George, Utah. She was healthy, happy, loved playing soccer, did well in school and had many, many friends. All her life she’d had no health concerns more serious than a cold and maybe a little exercise induced asthma; she hadn’t had a hospital stay since she was a newborn. All that changed dramatically on May 18, 2011, when, only 6 days before her 12th birthday, her heart suddenly stopped.
Abby was running in PE when she inexplicably collapsed in front of her teacher. As luck would have it, her coach was trained in CPR, which he immediately began. For close to ten minutes Abby’s heart did not beat nor did she take a breath while her coach and other teachers worked to keep blood flowing through her body, helping her maintain a tenuous grasp on life. When the paramedics arrived they used a defibrillator twice and were finally able to start her heart again. Three hours later, Abby was on a jet being flown to Primary Children’s Medical Center in Salt Lake City where later that night she was diagnosed with restrictive hypertrophic cardiomyopathy. The next day her family received the most shocking news of their lives: Abby would need a heart transplant to survive.
Abby spent many long days and nights in the hospital while waiting for her second chance at life. There were a few weeks, here and there, that she was well enough to stay at the home her mom rented in Salt Lake City. Her cousins lived nearby and stopped by the house or hospital to play games and hang out. They were all hopeful her new heart would come in time, but they could see she was getting sicker. It was hard for her to walk around much; she tired easily and slept a lot; she used supplemental oxygen 24 hours a day; she had grown thin and wouldn’t each much; she had lost her pink cheeks and healthy color. She and her family waited, waited and hoped. At one point she said to her mom, “I feel bad that someone is going to have to die in order for me to get a new heart.” She was conflicted about what to hope for. Her family explained that they weren’t hoping someone would die; unfortunately that happens to hundreds of people every day, whether she needs a new heart or not. Her family told her what they hoped for was that, when the time came, a family would make the decision to donate their loved one’s heart and that’s what would save Abby. That’s what they were all praying for.
As Abby’s health declined her family became more worried. It was hard to be patient and wait as they watched her become sicker and sicker. Then, after almost 2 months of waiting, Abby got the call she had been waiting for–a heart had become available for her. Someone, during their darkest hour, had so generously thought of others and made the decision that would save her life. Someone would be Abby’s donor.
After a long surgery and about three months recovery in Salt Lake City, Abby was allowed to move back to St. George with the promise that she would make weekly visits to the heart clinic. Things went well and her visits became bi-weekly, then monthly. Abby is now on the road to a full recovery only nine months after her transplant. She’s back to school, sometimes only part-time, but she’s thrilled to be back with her friends, doing normal kid stuff. She’s even back to playing soccer.
Abby and her family do not know who her donor was but they have written letters to express their eternal gratitude to her donor and her donor’s family, for giving her the chance to live life again. They think of her donor’s family often, knowing they must be experiencing what seems like unbearable grief, not even a full year after their loved one’s death. They are always in their thoughts and prayers.