West Valley graduate thriving after heart transplant

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FAIRBANKS, Alaska Adrian Peterson, from Fairbanks, received a new heart in late January after being transported to Seattle Children's Hospital in the fall. Adrian's mom, Danette Peterson, said he was so active that the doctors didn't think it was as serious as it ended up being.

In mid-October, Adrian struggled walking upstairs, and carrying weight on his back, until he became fully symptomatic of the flu. Doctors in Fairbanks diagnosed him with the flu, but then a week later, they went to the Emergency Room, and discovered that he was having a heart malfunction, if not heart failure. The doctors sent him to Seattle Children's since he was already a patient there, the next morning he was airlifted to Seattle.

"My first memory in Seattle is having a needle put into my neck while definitely untreated for any pain at the moment, and it was a lot of blurs after that until the second or third week."

Adrian says it then became evident that he needed a heart transplant. While he was on and off the heart transplant waiting list, he was put on a pump called the Left Ventricle Assist Device, LVAD for short. The pump sustained Adrian, circulating 70% of his blood for about two and a half months, while he waited for a transplant.

"We're really excited that Adrian did so well with the process and the heart pump that he got, is not used very often, he was really fortunate that he was large enough to use this heart pump, they don't use it in pediatrics very often, Seattle uses it about twice a year, they've asked him to come back and be a mentor to other kids. Adrian will say he was inspired by other kids that had transplants and their stories, and him getting to share those stories with other kids that are being treated there, he's hoping will inspire them to just rock it also," said Danette Peterson.

Adrian's family says they still aren't sure what caused the damage to the heart, and due to Adrian's activity level right before he was transported to the hospital, doctors at Seattle Children's initially thought it was something that could be treated with medication.

"He just did four hours of martial arts a week before he was medevac'd out and he's a double black belt in two different disciplines, and so they kind of ruled out all of these really extreme things, thinking that it was something they could simply treat with medication and then they got him stable enough where they could do the MRI and they looked at the heart and they said 'yeah we have some really bad news, it's not what we thought it was. So he just compensated really well for a long time," said Adrian's mom Danette Peterson.

Adrian stayed active while waiting for a heart transplant, walking in 1-2 hour blocks daily. On January 22, 2019, they got the call that they had a heart for him, a near perfect match. Two days later he was in the operating room receiving his new heart.

Although Adrian is recovering great, he will be living at home while attending the University of Alaska Fairbanks next year in order to reduce the likelihood of him getting sick which could lead to his body rejecting his new heart. Danette says the survival rate for patients after a heart transplant is 95% and reducing his exposure to viruses or colds is important in keeping those odds high.

"He's beat the odds through this entire process, I can think of ten different times where it could have gone either way, there were three times where they actually called in a special team and booked the operating room to restart his heart, and two of those three times he self-converted and got himself out of that situation. He's a fighter, and so I'm pretty convinced that even if he gets sick, he'll beat the odds and he'll be somebody who's going to hang on to that heart for forty plus years," said Danette Peterson. "He'll be on medication for his entire life, and right now he follows up at Seattle Children's monthly, and with time that'll get stretched out to every other month, and then every other third month, and by the end of two years, he'll probably only be going down three to four times a year."

Adrian had a meet and greet with a pediatric cardiologist that will be his local contact in Alaska for any issues that may arise. "I think it's nice for the families because you know travel is a significant factor in care for children with heart disease in this region, this state and for something like transplant, which requires very intensive follow up, to spell some of the visits between Seattle and here is a good idea," said Dr. James Christiansen, Pediatric Cardiologist with Seattle Children's Hospital in Anchorage.

"I think that's what we provide, a little bit more support that way, is this something serious, is this something that needs to be tended to right away or is this something like an allergy, or something simple, seasonal things like that that don't require any acute changes in his plan or visits or things like that. Another person to bounce things off of, like does this make sense, should I be worried, that's always available and now she has - one more resource locally or more locally than in Seattle."

When asked if his job is rewarding, Christiansen got emotional and said "when you're dealing with kids with challenging heart disease, it's quite an emotional process, emotional commitment, and I appreciate the opportunity."

"My husband and I are both organ donors, we signed the paperwork when we did our driver's license, but we didn't know anybody who had received a transplant or been involved in it, and you kind of sign that not realizing how it might impact you or your family. I had a really hard time initially when he got his donor heart, and people were coming up and saying congratulations. That felt like such a strange word, because we kept thinking of the family on the other side, and a nurse came up to me and said 'they were going to lose their loved one anyways, so having them be able to donate organs to Adrian and whoever else actually probably helps them with the grieving process.' It was really nice to have her say that because I hadn't thought of it that way," said Danette Peterson.

Adrian has been staying active as much as he can, and says besides a higher heart rate, and reduced endurance level, he feels pretty normal. "Outside of a different heart rate, it hasn't been too much different. The donor was a pretty darn good match, and we didn't have any conflicting issues. It was someone who I think was a year younger than me, I mean I really couldn't ask for anything better," said Adrian.