Dragonfly Heart Camp allows transplant recipients to be kids again

ROCK HALL, Md. - Waves crash around the pearl of the Chesapeake.  It's also known as Rock Hall in Kent County and on a recent day it was home to Dragonfly Heart Camp.   

You know that saying, "Have a Heart."  Compassion comes to mind.  But for the 20 kids, ages 8 to 17, having a heart is why they're here.

"I'm feeling good," said Kyle Wilkerson, from Pasadena, who has lived with a new heart for a year.    

Wilkerson joined the five-day camp a year after he got the heart of hit-and-run victim Skylar Marion.   The two knew each other at Chesapeake High School in Pasadena, but he never imagined a 74-day hospital stay at the University of Maryland Medical Center would end with accepting the heart of his peer.

"She told me Kyle we have a heart.  I said is it Skylar's? And she said she couldn't tell me. But me and my mom knew," said Wilkerson.

They had a feeling.  As Wilkerson laid in the hospital waiting on a fix for a genetic heart condition, the news about Skylar was lighting up social media.

Wilkerson had a heart transplant four days after Skylar was hit while walking on Mountain Road.  Over a year later, police have not identified the driver, but Wilkerson is healthy thanks to Skylar's young heart.

“I just want to go 100 percent every day," said Wilkerson.   

So here he is, joining people from several states, who are in the same boat and now they're learning to sail.

The camp started soon after Sarah Cataldo became sick and spent over four months at Children's Hospital in Philadelphia.

"A virus hit me and caused heart failure, so nothing else failed but my heart.  And the reason it failed is because it got enlarged.  So basically it was three times too big for my body," said Cataldo.    

No longer enlarged but she carries a big heart for the young boy who died.

"I have a little boy in Allentown, PA's heart, named Jamal," said Cataldo.  "He was on a roof and he was giving his sister a glass of water.  He was tanning on the roof and he was I guess fooling around or joking around and he stepped back and fell off the roof and hit his head," she said.    

There's no bike or iPod or gaming system that can top her birthday gift on July 27, 8 years ago.

"My doctor came in and asked me what I wanted for my birthday and I was joking saying a new heart would be great.  And he said well I got you one," said Cataldo.

So Cataldo and her mom made a commitment to help others who carry a new heart.  There is a medical staff allowing the kids to play and live in the moment. 

"Transplant is what we do when we don't have anything better to do quite honestly because a transplanted heart, if we're lucky, will last 15 years and that's why 15 years is fine if you're 70 but not so great if you're a child," said Dr. Janet Scheel, Pediatric Cardiologist for Children's National Medical Center in Washington, DC.

Dr. Scheel got involved to keep teens on the right path with taking their medications.

"If you don't take your medications as a heart transplant patient then you reject your heart.  And unlike kidneys, where if you reject your kidney, you can go into dialysis, we don’t really have a great option."

Kyle knows the importance of staying hydrated following a heart transplant.

This 16-year-old boy is getting back on track, playing baseball and basketball again and hanging out with people who understand the journey.

"It's just been catching up, catching up in school, catching up in life," said Wilkerson.

Learning how to steer a sailboat doesn't hurt.

"One of the greatest things about sailing is it provides a sense of independence," said Connie Ranney, Rock Hall Yacht Club Sailing School

As he grabs ahold of his new freedom, he will carry a thankful heart.

"It was happiness and sadness because somebody has to die," said Wilkerson.

Dr. Scheel says one third of patients die while waiting for a heart.  If you want to learn more information about organ sharing, click here .

 

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