After a year at Riley, Adriel gets a heart transplant

Patient Stories |


Adriel Hernandez heart transplant

A 3-year-old is back home with his family now, thanks to a lifesaving gift from a stranger.

By Maureen Gilmer, Riley Children’s Health senior writer,

For a year, Adriel Hernandez lived at Riley Hospital for Children. But when it came time to go home last week, the 3-year-old wasn’t too sure he was ready.

The nurses and therapists on the Heart Center had become his family, even though one or both of his parents spent most every day with him.

Adriel Hernandez heart transplant

Adriel, born with a serious heart defect, had previously undergone surgery to repair one of his ventricles, but his heart function declined over time, and he was admitted to Riley in May 2023 to wait for a heart transplant.

During that time, he had an important sidekick that he named JJ. It went everywhere with him. JJ was his Berlin Heart, a pump that helps maintain blood flow in patients with heart failure.

Adriel and JJ settled into a routine at Riley. They walked the halls frequently, the precocious toddler often wearing his “Woody” hat and clutching his plastic Gekko.

Adriel Hernandez heart transplant

He flirted with the nurses, played with his toy cars and entertained everyone he met.

It was just after midnight April 15, 11 months into their stay, when Glenda Hernandez answered her cellphone at home. It was a transplant coordinator delivering the news she had prayed about for months. The team had accepted a donor heart for her son.

“I sat up and grabbed my husband’s leg,” she said. “Oh my God, this is it!”

Dr. Mark Turrentine transplanted that hero heart, that lifesaving gift, into Adriel later that same day, but it didn’t seem to take right away, his mom said.

“It was a lot of waiting for him to stabilize. It was scary.”

She couldn’t help but wonder if they had done the right thing by agreeing to transplant.

“He had made such a connection with his Berlin, and I had to tell him it was going bye-bye. It’s hard to tell a 3-year-old they are getting a new heart. I don’t think he understands the concept.”

It took about a week post-transplant, but Adriel and his new heart seemed to reach an understanding, and he turned the corner.

“That’s Adriel, he just shows us he’s a warrior,” Glenda Hernandez said.

Adriel Hernandez heart transplant

On May 5, just days shy of a year since he was admitted, Adriel said goodbye to his Riley team, leaving the hospital with his new heart and his grateful, if somewhat anxious, parents.

“It’s like taking a newborn home,” his mom said, wondering how her little boy would assimilate back into their Indianapolis household with two older siblings.

“He will adapt, but sharing and not always getting his way might be a challenge.”

Sure enough, just a week after coming home, Adriel is flourishing. He is soaking up the sun, enjoying the fresh air and getting used to life outside the hospital.

Adriel Hernandez heart transplant

As with many parents of pediatric heart transplant recipients, Glenda and her husband, Josue, struggle to find the words to convey what the gift means to them.

“I’ve prayed throughout this because I knew what it would mean for Adriel to receive a heart,” Glenda said. “I prayed that whoever would give Adriel this heart that they had a happy life. I know the decision the family made wasn’t easy, but I hope that one day they can just see a happy, smiling Adriel and know it was worth it.”

Photos submitted and by Mike Dickbernd, IU Health visual journalist,