Teen gets life-saving gift for the holidays — a new heart

It was 1 a.m. and 16-year-old Timothy Jones had fallen asleep to the buzzing and beeping of the machines keeping him alive.

Then came the commotion.

His mom, several family members and nurse woke him up to deliver the news: “You’re getting a new heart,” they cried in unison.

That was Dec. 1., only a month after he had been admitted to Joe DiMaggio Children’s Hospital in Hollywood and told his heart was failing.

“At first, I didn’t believe it,” said the teen. “I was fine up until I got to the [operating room] and a whole bunch of nervousness just hit me.”

The teenager who played the French horn in his school’s band and had never been to the hospital before became the hospital’s 50th child to receive a new heart as part of its transplant program, which began in 2010.

“Timothy’s transplant really is a milestone for all of us in the Joe DiMaggio family and all of us here in Broward County and South Florida,” said Maryanne Chrisant, M.D., medical director of Pediatric Heart Transplant.

Chrisant said 50 children have received a second chance at life.

“To hear that and for it to be me sounds amazing,” Tim said, about being the 50th transplant.

Tim’s whirlwind journey for a heart transplant began with stomach pains, lack of and appetite and trouble sleeping.

“I am thinking I just have a cold, so I’m taking medicine to just get over it,” said the 10th grader.

But things got worse. He begrudgingly listened to his mother and went to the emergency room.

It wasn’t long before Tim got the grim news that he had cardiomyopathy — an enlarged heart — and needed a new heart.

“At first I didn’t understand … isn’t your heart supposed to be big?” he asked. “It was shocking. I had never even been to the hospital before.”

Nurse practitioner Robert Winchester said Tim was lucky he went to the hospital when he did.

“When we did his first echocardiogram we saw how bad his heart function was,” he said. “I think if it would have gone on much longer, I don’t think he would be with us.”

Winchester said it was likely Tim has had the issue since birth and it went undetected. Often, he said, people get used to their own normal. For Tim, sweating heavily and having food intolerance became his normal.

Tim was placed on a waiting list, with a potential match determined by several factors including proximity, size and age.

After being diagnosed, Tim remained in the hospital, hooked to an IV filled with medicine to keep his heart functioning. He tried to keep up with his work at Blanche Ely High School, and leaned on prayer and his family.

“It wasn’t easy,” said Tim, who missed eating ramen noodles and hanging out with his friends.

His aunt Marcia Wise said Timothy’s family members would stop everything at 10 a.m. every day to pray for Tim’s recovery.

Seeing him receive a new heart was an “unforgettable” experience.

“It’s a different Tim,” she said.

She said they are forever indebted to the donor family, a sentiment echoed by the doctors and nurses at Joe DiMaggio.

“There are so many people waiting for organs, not just hearts, but for kidneys, for lungs, intestines,” said Megan Zakrzewski, nurse practitioner. “Being an organ donor, especially a pediatric organ donor, is the hardest decision a parent could ever make because they are losing their child but it is the best gift they could ever give, especially for the holidays.”

For Tim, being able to be home for the holidays is extra special.

“We will celebrate me, life and just that we are all together,” he said.