Holidays are special for heart transplant recipients

Patient Stories |


Shayla Web

Riley families will gather to celebrate the gift of life at Saturday’s Heart to Heart Christmas Party.

By Maureen Gilmer, IU Health senior journalist,

Shayla Giese owes her life to a 14-year-old boy she never met. Now, his heart beats in her chest.

When she was a junior in high school, Shayla’s damaged heart was failing fast. For six months, she was on the transplant list.

She and her parents got the call that a heart was available on Easter Sunday, March 31, 2013. Dr. John Brown performed the lifesaving surgery at Riley Hospital for Children the next day.

That was 6 ½ years ago, and Shayla, now 23, continues to count her blessings for that precious gift.

“There was a little guilt in the beginning,” she said, “especially because my heart came from a kid. But my mom and my doctors reminded me that he didn’t die because I needed a heart.”

Instead, she lived because his family chose to think beyond the pain of his loss to bless someone else with his organs.

Shayla, who lives in Illinois with her mom, Sherry, returns to Riley every three months for checkups with cardiologist Dr. Robert Darragh, but so far she’s had no issues with her transplanted heart, she said.

Her connection to Riley inspired her to attend IUPUI, where she studied to become a radiology technician. She now works at an Illinois hospital doing ultrasounds and X-rays.

This weekend, she will get to see many members of her care team, as well as old friends she met on the heart unit, when they gather for the annual Heart to Heart Christmas Party.

This year’s pediatric heart transplant holiday party begins at 9:30 a.m. Saturday at the NCAA Hall of Fame in Indianapolis. There will be educational games and crafts, and lunch will be served at 12:15 p.m.

In the spirit of giving, attendees are asked to bring items to be donated to the Ronald McDonald House. Cleaning items, paper products and non-perishable foods are always welcomed.

Dr. Brown, who frequently attends the transplant reunion, said last year that while the party is a celebration of life, he never forgets that there was a death that made that life possible.

But in the end, he said, “something good came out of something horrible.”