Not missing a beat Boy, 12, quickly returns home after heart tr

Sunday, June 2, 2002

CARTHAGE, Mo. -- Pink cheeks. Warm toes.

It wouldn't mean much to most moms, but to Barbara Hawkins, seeing those things in her 12-year-old son, Will, means everything.

It was 2:30 a.m. Monday, April 29, and she had never seen her son with pink cheeks and warm toes.

"To see life in him was just a miracle," said Hawkins. "I just cried."

Hawkins says her son has always looked a bit blue in his cheeks and extremities. Born with a weak heart with only three chambers, Will is small for his age and has never been physically active.

But on May 21, Will returned home to Carthage after an astonishing recovery from his heart transplant operation at Childrens Hospital in St. Louis.

It will undoubtedly be an amazing summer.

"It will be the first time that he hasn't had limitations," said Hawkins. "I want to see how he takes this and runs with it. I just want him to know what true happiness is."

It has been a long time in coming.

Wasn't the flu

It was toward the end of March when Hawkins started noticing that Will was having breathing problems and appeared lethargic. The initial diagnosis was a case of the flu that was going around at the time, but Hakins' persistence led to a trip to the specialist and an emergency trip to St. Louis on April 5.

Doctors initially tried to treat Will's heart failure with drugs, and he returned home in time to see his hero, Tiger Woods, play in The Masters golf tournament.

Will's condition deteriorated, however, and he was soon back in St. Louis where doctors performed what was to be a "simple procedure" to install a permanent IV.

Things didn't go as planned, however, and Will's heart stopped beating. Doctors performed cardiopulmonary resuscitation on him for about four minutes.

Experts again told the family to prepare for the worst.

"His doctor told me, 'I doubt that he'll live,'" Hawkins said.

Experts also warned that brain damage due to the poor blood flow was a distinct possibility. But his mother had been told to prepare for the worst before.

"I know him, and he wasn't supposed to go yet," she said.

As family members waited at Will's bedside, he quickly proved that he was fine.

"He asked for a Coke," Hawkins said.

The doctors were wrong.

'Let's get it over with'

With Will back on the waiting list for a heart, Hawkins was ready to come back to Carthage to wait several weeks. Will's father, Bill, had already returned to work at the Carthage Police Department.

When yet another doctor walked into Will's hospital room early Sunday, April 28, his mother hardly noticed. However, the new doctor was a heart surgeon, and he suddenly announced that Will's new heart would arrive later that afternoon.

Hawkins says that at first, Will, who has undergone too many operations to count, said that he didn't want to undergo another operation.

"I said, 'This is the one that's going to make you so much better," Hawkins said. "He said, 'OK. Let's get it over with.'"

Bill and the rest of Will's family just barely made it back to St. Louis to see Will before he was whisked off to surgery.

'Like time stood still'

Hawkins doesn't know how the 6-year-old girl died.

All she knows is that the girl was the same height and weight as Will, and that despite their grief, her parents donated all of her organs for transplant.

Because surgeons had to remove all of the donor's other organs before they took out her heart, everyone with Will had a long wait.

But eventually, Hawkins heard the "thump, thump, thump" of the arriving helicopter.

"It's like time stood still," she says.

It was a lengthy procedure, largely because doctors had to reroute all of the blood vessels that had been altered in previous surgeries. By 10:30 p.m. Will's family was told that the new heart was in and beating.

It wasn't until 2:30 a.m. that they were able to see him.

The change was remarkable.

"He looked like I had never seen this kid before," Hawkins said.

She cried not only for her son's new chance at life, but because she knew that somewhere a mother was grieving over the death of her daughter.

A Coke and doughnuts

Once he was off the ventilator, Will informed those nearby that he, once again, wanted a Coke. Hawkins said hospital staff tried to make due with other colas, but Will demanded the Coke. And doughnuts.

Will improved by leaps and bounds, and was sitting up on his own by the second day. Doctors told them that most transplant patients stay in the hospital for four weeks, but Will was back home in two.

He is currently taking steroids to counteract his body's rejection of the new heart, and must make weekly trips back to the hospital for surgeons to take a biopsy of the new heart to make sure all is going well.

Barbara is so excited about her son's new chance at life that she hardly mentions the financial impact Will's health has had on her family.

Teresa Thaman of the Joplin Regional Center says Barbara's time away from work and the cost of the many trips to St. Louis have made things tough for the Hawkins home.

Insurance and Medicaid may help pay for some of the $500,000 transplant, although help is needed with Will's transportation and the family's living expenses.

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