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Phoenix toddler receives heart transplant before Christmas

Posted at 10:06 PM, Dec 27, 2021
and last updated 2021-12-28 00:06:47-05

PHOENIX — A Phoenix family was able to celebrate Christmas together after their 1-year-old son had a heart transplant in November.

Harrison Damper was diagnosed with dialectic cardiomyopathy in September and received a new heart mid-November.

"So Harrison had dialectic cardiomyopathy, and so basically what that means, the main pumping chamber of his heart had stopped working," said Dr. Bethany Wisotzkey, a pediatric heart transplant physician at Phoenix Children's.

According to Wisotzkey, trying to find a heart for a toddler can be hard.

"Donor organs are matched by size, so it's not even necessarily age, it's size so I can't usually transplant an adult-sized into a very small person because it wouldn't fit."

Harrison's family found out about his condition after taking him to the doctor for a cold.

The family credits the medical team for finding the problem before it got worse.

"I want to thank everyone that's been involved because they really stepped up," said Calvin Damper, Harrison's dad.

"Thanks to the gift that the people who lost so much gave us, we're able to enjoy this Christmas," he added.

"In the span of two to three weeks, we went from thinking we had a totally healthy baby to them letting us know our son should be listed as a heart transplant," said Beth Vander Meulen, Harrison's mom.

Despite his condition, his family and doctors told ABC15 Harrison's attitude always remained positive.

"It was a complete shock," said Vander Meulen.

Harrison's family said they realized that the only way to get a heart transplant was for someone else to lose a loved one.

"Not only does the team struggle with it, but our families struggle with it so I think we try to embrace the fact it's a gift from thee family," she said.

"There's really no good words to express it or explain it," Wiscotzkey added.

"As a mom, I've shed so many tears for a family I didn't know," said Vander Meulen.

"I couldn't be more grateful and yet so sad so this to happen to someone else," she added.

Dr. Wiscotzkey shared that same sentiment.

Vander Meulen said she's grateful for the donation.

In general, donors and patients aren't able to make contact until at least one year has passed.

Still, Vander Meuluen said she hopes the family that donated the heart knows how much it means to her.

"That their heart lives on, in my child," she said.

"Their family is a piece of our family and not a day goes by that I don't think about them and not in a sad way but in such an amazing way that they gave us a gift."