We were so excited when we heard the news that we were expecting our second child. The pregnancy went well and we were patiently waiting the birth of our child. Three weeks before our due date, the family got a common virus.
I was the last to get it and it caused me to start having contractions. We went into the hospital and the decision was made to proceed with labor. Unfortunately at birth, Justin contracted the same virus. Justin came down with a fever five days after birth. There is no medicine for a virus so we had to wait and see how his body would react to the virus.
Two weeks after birth, his blood pressure was dropping and his heart was showing problems– the virus had attacked his heart. After much testing it was determined that his left ventricle had little to no function. The damage was too severe for a newborn to fight and the doctors determined Justin needed to be flown to St. Louis for an evaluation for a heart transplant.
Justin was flown by airplane to St. Louis Children’s Hospital. Once in St. Louis, it was almost immediately decided that Justin would be listed on the heart transplant list. After evaluating Justin, the doctors felt his condition was so severe that he wouldn’t make it to transplant if he didn’t receive some aid. Two days after Justin was listed on the UNOS transplant waiting list, he surgically had the Berlin Heart ventricular assist device placed in him.
The Berlin Heart was an external device that would pump the blood for his ventricles to keep the rest of his organs healthy and was his best chance to be bridged to transplant. During Justin’s wait, he had to learn to drink from a bottle, do physical therapy and gain weight.
Seven weeks passed when our family received the phone call of a donor heart being available. The emotions of receiving that phone call are like no other, knowing that this is your child’s best day for a second chance at life but that some other family is going through their worst day. Justin was just 77 days old when he received his new heart. Because of the progress Justin made while on the Berlin Heart device, he was released from the hospital just 8 days after transplant.
Justin is a very active 4 year old and continues to make us smile with his contagious laugh. He has regular check ups every 3 months which help assure us that his heart is serving him well. Justin loves riding his bike, playing Legos and all things Spiderman!
Doug, Justin's Dad, was 23 and about to enter veterinary school when his vision changed rapidly. He was diagnosed with keratoconus, a condition where the cornea becomes thin and cone-shaped instead of round. Eventually the cornea could become so thin that it would rupture. He was told that he needed to have corneal transplants.
That fall and the next February, Doug received the transplants he needed. Today, 16 years after the transplants, he is still thankful that he is able to
The Eisenmann family is grateful every day for the donors who gave Justin a new heart and restored Doug's vision. Those gifts positively impact not only their lives, but their community.
By Laura Eisenmann, Justin’s mom and Doug's wife