Miracle Stories

Reagan Stephenson: 2011

Heart transplant

Reagan Stephenson looks like a typical 4-year old. She loves to dance, sign and run around. She also really likes puzzles, which is fitting, since doctors have been trying to piece together a solution to her heart problems since her life first began.

Stacy Stephenson's fourth pregnancy seemed uneventful, other than going into preterm labor at 30 weeks and being given medication and placed on bed rest. Then Reagan was born at 36 weeks. On the final visit before leaving the hospital, Dr. Wehner heard what he thought might be a heart murmur. He ordered some tests and decided to keep Reagan one more night at the hospital.

The tests revealed that something was wrong with Reagan's heart. The family would need to go to San Antonio. An examination and several tests there determined that Reagan's heart muscle was actually diseased, not malformed. After spending 10 days with specialists, Reagan's heart was only working at 50 percent of its normal capacity.

Reagan's father, Rex, says: "Evidently, Reagan caught a virus before she was born, and this caused her heart to be diseased. When the doctors released us to head home, I was scared. We had three other children, but I was much more nervous with Reagan."

The doctors told the Stephensons there was a one-third chance of improvement, a one-third chance of maintenance and a one-third chance of deterioration. Reagan saw a cardiologist every month. In December, things took a turn for the worse. Her heart function dropped to around 35 percent, and the cardiologist told them to prepare to head to Houston after the Christmas holiday. Then Reagan got even worse.

Stacy recalls: "Reagan was sick and throwing up. She was gagging and gasping for air. Her eyes had rolled to the back of her head." She needed to be airlifted to Texas Children's Hospital in Houston. But even before Reagan left Shannon, she coded. The entire Shannon medical team of nurses, Dr. Wehner and the entire pediatric cardiac staff worked frantically and were able to get her stable enough to be transported to Houston.

While Stacy and Reagan headed to Houston by plane, Rex jumped in his car and drove to meet them there. "When I arrived in Houston," Stacy recalls, "I asked the specialist what her heart was functioning at. I was shocked when they responded: 5 percent."

Once Reagan was settled at Texas Children's Hospital, the heart transplant physicians began to work immediately. Rex recalls: "The doctors were so impressive and confident. I remember one of them saying, 'We want our kids to live full lives.' The doctor then emphasized, 'Our kids play sports.'"

Both Rex and Stacy were comforted by the confidence of the physicians. After a full week of testing Reagan, was added to the transplant list. The family spent six weeks waiting for a heart. On Feb. 14, a miracle happened. Stacy had secretly been hoping that Reagan's heart would arrive on Valentine's Day. "I was at the end of my rope," she says. "I just couldn't go on another day. I was tired, I missed my family and it was so hard living in limbo. I was in tears. I finally got to sleep, and about an hour later, the transplant team woke me up stating that there was a possibility that a heart was available!"

Stacy called Rex, and he and their pastor jumped in the car and headed to Houston at about midnight. There was no time to spare. Rex arrived in Houston at 6:30 a.m., and Reagan's surgery for her new heart began at 7 a.m. While Rex and Stacy were thrilled for Reagan, they were also mournful for the donor's family, who had just lost a child and made the life-giving decision of organ donation. When Reagan's surgery was complete, the next heart was working at 100 percent. Twelve days later, Reagan was released.

Stacy and the children stayed in Houston for three months with a goal to be home by the time Reagan turned one on May 20—a goal that would have been met, had the family not faced another tragedy, the death of Rex's father.

The Stephensons know Reagan's heart won't last forever (10 years is expected). They are confident that Reagan is still alive because of Dr. Wehner and Shannon Medical Center. They can't say enough about the care Reagan receives from her physicians.

Today, Reagan is a bubbly, bright and wonderful 4-year old who lights up a room every time she is in it and loves being with her family. She is truly a miracle kid, because without the training and technology her doctor's received through the Children's Miracle Network and Shannon, her life would have turned out quite differently.

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