By Maureen Gilmer, IU Health senior writer, email@example.com
Kobe Brannan has been marking milestones since the day he was born. And Saturday was a big one. Kobe married his longtime sweetheart, Teal Burnett, in Terre Haute, Indiana.
This celebration was made even sweeter by the fact that Kobe has survived two heart transplants in his 24 years of life.
So, the young man who is living with his third heart gave it away – metaphorically speaking – to the woman he loves.
Kobe, born in Terre Haute in 1998, was rushed to Riley Hospital for Children as a baby after tests showed he had multiple heart defects.
“Parts of my heart weren’t working,” he said. “I was dying.”
At 7 weeks old, he received his first donor heart, transplanted by Riley surgeon Dr. Mark Turrentine.
He lived a pretty normal life, he said, playing sports and being a regular kid, until his heart started giving out when he was a teenager. He first noticed it during a basketball camp he was participating in.
Kobe, named for basketball legend Kobe Bryant, loved the sport but realized he wasn’t as fast as he had been, and he just didn’t feel right.
His dreams of playing on his high school team were fading.
After more tests and repeated hospitalizations at Riley, Kobe was again added to the transplant list.
On Oct. 9, 2014, his mom, Sarah, got the call from Riley transplant coordinator Debbie Murphy that they had a heart for Kobe.
“It was the middle of the night, and it was so exciting,” Kobe recalled. “It was like I was preparing for a basketball game. I was walking up and down the hallway of the hospital with my headphones on. I was pumped up.”
But the initial thrill gave way to fear, he said when it was time to go into surgery.
“I was very scared. I cried, and I remember how cold it was walking back to the operating room. I had to say bye to my parents, not knowing what was going to come next.”
He remembers child life specialist Jenna Yarnell holding his hand as he went back, bringing him comfort.
Yarnell remembers that time as well.
“He is the first patient that I ever had the privilege to support in preparing for a heart transplant and then actually getting to go to the OR with him for his anesthesia induction,” she said.
“He and his family were so receptive to child life support and did such a great job asking questions and seeking to understand the process, especially since Kobe was so much older for this transplant.”
Kobe spent months in recovery, but he made sure to work basketball into his therapy by walking and dribbling a ball down the hall as his mom held his chest tube.
Eventually, he was released to the Ronald McDonald House, so he could have multiple follow-up appointments with his cardiologist, Dr. Robert Darragh, and Murphy, his transplant coordinator, before going home.
He was cleared to return to school in March of his junior year, but he negotiated for more time at home so he could watch all of the NCAA tournament games on TV.
By the time he came back for his senior year, he was in good enough shape to rejoin his school’s basketball team.
“My goal was to come back my senior year. I was a bench rider, the player who comes in when your team is up 30 points,” he laughed, “but it was fun to practice and play with my buddies. It was awesome to get back out there.”
Kobe went on to graduate from college and is living in Edwardsville, Illinois, while his wife finishes pharmacy school.
He returned to Riley with his dad, Tom, two days before his wedding last week for a clinic appointment with Dr. Darragh.
Just being back at Riley was emotional for Tom Brannan.
“I’m going to get all teary-eyed,” he said, when asked how it felt to know his son was about to get married.
“We spent a lot of time here, but I haven’t really thought about those days because things have been really good. When you think about it, it hits you,” he said. “These people at Riley are unbelievable. It’s crazy how good they are.”
Those people include Dr. Darragh and Murphy, both of whom attended Kobe and Teal’s wedding over the weekend.
“We love Dr. Darragh and nurse Debbie so much,” Kobe said. “They are so amazing, and they have done so much for me.”
Dr. Darragh describes Kobe as a “wonderful young man who enjoys life and is a kind soul.”
“Most of this is a testament to his parents and family, who have been a pleasure to interact with throughout Kobe’s life,” the cardiologist said.
For his donors and their families, Kobe wants them to know how much he values their gift of life.
“It’s a blessing, and it gives someone like me another chance at life. Getting that new heart and becoming the man I’ve become, it’s truly a blessing.”
Learn more about organ donation at www.donatelifeindiana.org.
Photos submitted and by Mike Dickbernd, IU Health visual journalist, firstname.lastname@example.org
Riley’s cardiology and heart surgery program is ranked fifth best in the nation by U.S. News & World Report. It is the Midwest’s top-ranked hospital for children’s heart care.