Trevor Sullivan’s mother hadn’t even meant to videotape her son’s emotional awakening after heart transplant surgery. She’d intended to take a photo with her mobile phone, but accidentally set it on video, instead.
Trevor, 15, said it was OK. He wanted to tell friends and family following his medical journey on Facebook that he felt “amazing” after 10 months on a transplant waiting list. “I’m so happy,” he said tearfully. “I’ve been waiting so long…I can breathe again. I can talk.”
The Southfield, Mich., family posted the touching video online, and it was shared on the Facebook site for Gift of Life Michigan. The video went viral from there, attracting upwards of 1.7 million views and international media coverage including nods from CNN, the Today show and the Washington Post.
Trevor is stunned, but not embarrassed, to be an Internet sensation.
“It’s definitely something really personal,” he said. “It’s pretty brave to put yourself on the Internet crying, but I wanted it to be shared because I wanted people to realize what happens after you donate.”
There are more than 121,000 candidates for organ transplant surgery on waiting lists in the United States, including roughly 4,000 who need hearts, according to United Network for Organ Sharing, the private, non-profit organization that manages the nation’s organ transplant system.
Unfortunately, many of those patients will die because the number of people in need of organs far exceeds organs donated.
Trevor, an active boy who wrestled, played football and hiked with fellow Boy Scouts, began feeling sick in 2014. He was lethargic and getting headaches, stomachaches and upper respiratory infections.
A chest X-ray revealed it was cardiomyopathy, a disease of the heart muscle that causes it to become enlarged and rigid.
“His heart was so enlarged that it took up his whole left chest cavity and a good chunk of his right chest cavity,” said Trevor’s father, Philip Sullivan. “It was weighing heavily on his lungs and made it hard to breathe.”
Doctors initially hoped to treat the disorder with medication and heart surgery, but later determined Trevor needed an entirely new heart. The teen was airlifted from William Beaumont Hospital in Royal Oak to University of Michigan’s C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital in Ann Arbor. And then he waited. And waited some more, missing the end of eighth grade and the start of his freshman year of high school because he was too sick to go to school or even study in his hospital bed.
In November of last year, Trevor finally was matched with a donor. His surgery was Friday the 13th, a lucky day, in his view.
Trevor wasn’t scared, he said. Doctors had gone over every step of the surgery with him to put his mind at ease.
“I was just excited, really, to finally be getting a new heart,” Trevor said.
The surgery went well, and he’s feeling great aside from a temporary form of diabetes resulting from medicine he’s taking to prevent rejection.
“I feel normal again,” Trevor said.
Well, as normal as anyone can feel when they’re getting requests for interviews from media all over the world.
The teen is studying at home with a tutor for the rest of ninth grade and hopes to return to school next year, but he gave a speech to classmates after his surgery to educate peers about the importance of organ donation.
The American Heart Association has invited him to speak at other schools, as well, and he’s looking forward to that.
Trevor’s family is proud that the number of Michigan residents signing up to be organ donors spiked in January following the release of their video.
“That’s good,” Trevor said. “That’s what I was hoping for.”
His dad said it’s not surprising that the short clip moved so many people.
“If that doesn’t make you donate, nothing will,” he said.
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