New year, new heart: Noblesville teen gets transplant in time for holiday season

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A Noblesville teenager is starting off the new year with a new heart following transplant surgery. He received it in time to celebrate the holiday season.

Will Chance, 16, a junior at Noblesville High School, experienced complications from an enlarged heart, or acute dilated cardiomyopathy, at the end of his eighth-grade year in school.

There was a day when the kids walked from West Middle School to Morse Beach and back,” said Kip Chance, Will’s adoptive mother. “He came home and was tired. At 11 p.m., he started throwing up. We thought maybe it could be appendicitis, so we took him to the hospital and they ran some fluids through him, did some blood work and said that it was just a virus and sent him home.

“Three weeks later, we talked him into taking summer P.E. The first day, he comes home, is tired and starts throwing up. We took him to our doctor and he checked him over. He sent us to the hospital because his heart was a little fast and he was dehydrating, and he said they might do a scan. Nothing showed up in his bloodwork again, but the doctor said we could either go home or get a scan. We wanted a scan to know what was wrong.”

The bottom half of Will’s heart appeared on a stomach CT scan.

“It’s obviously not supposed to be there, but his heart was so large,” said Mike Chance, Will’s adoptive dad. “It was four times the size it should have been, so they do the stomach scan, and then the next thing we know, the nurses are coming in and ripping off his clothes, hooking him up to an EKG, putting him in a hospital gown. The doctor came in and said, ‘Your son is gravely ill.’ The doctors were even talking at that time about a transplant.”

Three days later, hospital staff moved Will to a different area of the hospital as his stability status improved.

“We were in the new room maybe 45 minutes, and all of the sudden, he grabbed his chest and fell back,” Kip said.

“I had a heart attack,” Will said. “After that, they resuscitated me and I had to go back down to the ICU, and I was there for two days and ended up having a stroke because of an IV that had infiltrated in my arm. They were running blood thinners through me, so when I had the stroke, the blood clot dissipated really quickly, so there was no long-term damage. That was also when I had a defibrillator/pacemaker put in, so they were able to stabilize me and I was able to go home (after 18 days).”

Already in the process of getting Will on the transplant list, the Chances received a call that St. Vincent’s Dr. Christopher Salerno wanted to meet with the family to discuss another option.

Mike, Will and Kip Chance just before Will’s heart transplant surgery in September 2018. (Submitted photo)

“We’re thinking, ‘Well, what else could there be?’” Mike said. “He wanted to put a heart pump in because they didn’t think that Will would live long enough to get a transplant. The first thing they do as part of getting him on the (transplant) list, they did a heart biopsy, and when they go in and measure the pressures of his heart, his heart was starting to affect his lungs,” Mike said. “They told us they had to do something quick because if his lungs got permanently damaged, he would no longer qualify for a heart transplant. They told us they were looking at (the heart pump) as a bridge to a heart transplant, buying us some more time. The downside is that the longer you have it, the chances of a stroke or a blood clot increase.”

Will received the heart pump Sept. 20, 2016, and is the youngest patient at St. Vincent to have received one.

“It was a 7-pound bag that I had to wear over my shoulder all the time,” Will said. “It was attached to me and went into my stomach, so I could never take it off.”

“He had to sit out the first semester of his freshman year at home,” Kip said. “He went back second semester. My fear was that these cables and wires were sticking out of his shirt at all times. The student body at Noblesville High School is 4,200-plus, and I could just see kids changing classes and bumping him.”

While still a patient at St. Vincent, his status was a 1B on the heart transplant list, one step below the highest priority of 1A. Kip said he didn’t have the highest-priority status because he had a heart pump and because he wasn’t registered as a pediatric patient at St. Vincent. However, one week later his status rose to 1A when he was placed on the national transplant list as a pediatric patient.

Nearly two years to the day after receiving the heart pump, Will received his heart transplant after only two weeks on the national waiting list.

On Sept. 18, the Chances received the call at their Noblesville home in the evening from an anonymous phone number. Kip took the call from Dr. Ashwin Ravichandran, Will’s cardiologist, who asked to speak to Will to deliver the good news.

“They told us to expect a wait of three months to a year,” Kip said. “And on the phone, he said, ‘We found you the perfect heart!’”

Will is the first pediatric patient at St. Vincent to receive a transplant. Salerno performed the surgery. What was expected to be a 12-hour proceedure took approximately seven hours.

Now, Will is in recovery. He spent only eight days in the hospital following surgery. He takes approximately 30 pills daily to suppress his immune system, helping his body to adjust to his new heart. He completes schoolwork from home and said his plan is to return to NHS at the start of his senior year. He is on track to graduate in 2020.

At first, Will said he was reluctant to get the transplant. But now, without the heart pump, he said his quality of life is already improving.

“Like now, I can take a shower normally. I can swim again,” he said. “It makes me feel more free to do more.”

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