Heart transplant

Saline mother launches pediatric heart transplant research charity after son receives Gift of Life

A woman from Saline has started an organization – the only one in Michigan raising funds for pediatric heart transplant research. Unfortunately, she learned of the need because of what happened to her son.

After her son’s heart transplant, she became an advocate for pediatric heart transplant research. Now his efforts and an event this weekend could help save young lives.

“My husband and I are both working, our kids were doing well in school – very social, very active – and now I’m looking to save my son’s life,” said Shirley Wickman.

Wickman says her family lived normal lives until she called 3-2-1 day. On March 21, 2018, during a gym class, her 8-year-old son’s heart stopped. They were able to resuscitate Rexford and rush him to Mott Children’s Hospital in Ann Arbor.

He was diagnosed with a rare form of congenital heart disease called restrictive cardiomyopathy with six months to two years to live.

“He’s never been sick. He’s never been this sick. He’s adapted so well to his failing heart that it’s gone undetected,” she said.

A stress test would soon reveal that Rexford was in desperate need of a heart transplant.

“He got the call 100 days later, the day after Thanksgiving,” she said. “They told us, ‘We have a heart for your son.'”

Her son received a successful heart transplant, but four years later he is not out of danger. Pediatric heart transplant patients are at risk for organ rejection, transplant coronary heart disease, or post-transplant lymphoma.

“A heart transplant is not a cure for end-stage heart failure, it’s a treatment,” Wickman said.

With the ability and resources, Wickman started Heart for Life, an organization that raises money for pediatric heart transplant research. A potential treatment is currently undergoing a clinical trial at Mott Children’s Hospital.

“Non-invasive ways to help predict whether or not this is going to happen and if it does, how do we treat it other than the solution of another organ transplant,” she said.

On Sunday, September 25, Heart for Life is hosting a fun 5k run/family day at Travis Pointe Country Club in Ann Arbor.

The money raised will go towards research which will hopefully find a drug to prevent coronary heart disease in young patients and the need for another transplant.

“He’s in 7th grade, he plays catcher in baseball, he’s very competitive, he’s an ‘A’ student, and you’d never know it — he’s awesome,” she said. “But I have to keep it that way,” Wickman said. “It’s hard, but we were lucky to have been given the gift of life and it’s our job to make it a Heart for Life.”

The fun run starts at 10 a.m. and will be followed by food trucks, games, vendors, a silent auction and a raffle. You can register or donate at heartforlife.org/