Valentine's Day 2007 will have extra special meaning this year for hundreds of adult and pediatric heart transplant patients and their families when they gather at Atlanta's Turner Field for this year's Heart to Heart celebration.
WHO: Current and past patients of the heart transplant and cardiac programs at Children's Healthcare of Atlanta and Emory Hospitals
WHAT: Hundreds of adult and pediatric heart transplant patients and family members will celebrate their successful fight against congenital heart disease and other heart ailments this Valentine's Day weekend. The celebration activities at Turner Field will also feature a VIP tour of the stadium.
WHEN: Sunday, Feb. 11 2-4 p.m.
WHERE: Turner Field (Lexus Level) 755 Hank Aaron Dr SE Atlanta, GA 30315-1121
MEDIA INTERVIEW OPPORTUNITIES: Transplant coordinators from both Emory and Children's Healthcare will be available for interviews, as well as select patients, who can discuss their challenges and triumphs. Below are two such examples and patients who have agreed to be interviewed.
Christopher Whitson, 7 Byron, GA
Christopher was born with a congenital heart defect called hypoplastic left heart syndrome (HLHS), a condition in which the left side of the heart is underdeveloped and not working properly, leaving the right side pulling "double duty." HLHS is often treated through a series of three complex surgeries, all within the first few years of life. Christopher had his first operation at the Children's Healthcare of Atlanta Sibley Heart Center at just eight days of age; a second at seven months; and a third at three years of age. After his third surgery in July 2002, Christopher's heart began to fail him. His parents, Michelle and Steve, spent their entire summer going back and forth to the hospital. In November 2002, the Whitson's were informed that Christopher would need a heart transplant to have any chance of survival. He was placed on the transplant waiting list Nov. 6, 2002, and miraculously received word that a heart had been found just 20 days later - the same day as he experiences a near brush with death. Christopher underwent a successful heart transplant at Children's Sibley Heart Center on Nov. 26, 2002. Today, he is doing great! An avid t-ball and football player, Christopher is making the most of his new gift of life. He enjoys playing video games and e-mailing with his dad, who is in the military and has been back and forth to Iraq and Afghanistan.
Clifford Thomas, 65 Rome, GA
Clifford Thomas lost both his mother and father to heart disease, but never gave a second thought that he, too, might also be prone to suffering the same fate. Clifford, 65, a Rome, Ga., native, tried to live a healthy lifestyle by staying active and coaching little league sports, including baseball, basketball and football. His outlook on life and heart disease was altered immediately one day in 1996 when he fell ill while at work. "I suddenly felt nauseous, started sweating and felt faint," Thomas recalls. "Luckily, my friend, who was also a trained EMT, recognized that I was probably having a heart attack. He called 9-1-1 and had me lie down immediately."
Thomas was, indeed, suffering a heart attack. He soon learned that he had an enlarged heart, and that his mother and father had likely died of the same consequences.
"I felt too healthy and young to be concerned about a heart attack, but it suddenly made sense to me that with my parents having the same issues, I might also be in line to have heart problems."
With only about 35 percent of his heart operating at normal levels, Thomas was placed on a waiting list for a heart transplant, and his call came in 2000.
"Out of the blue, a call came one evening that a heart was found and was on its way," says Thomas. "I headed to Emory University Hospital in Atlanta, received my se cond chance at life. Now I'm lucky enough to tell others about the need to not only live a healthy lifestyle, but to also get regular checkups and understand that sometimes family history plays an even bigger role in heart disease."
A father of three children and grandfather of four grandchildren, as well as coach and mentor to countless kids, Thomas regularly stresses the importance of good health maintenance to his family. "They only need to see that I'm still around to understand how important it is to see the doctor and take care of themselves," he says.