February 14th is more than Valentine’s Day to Johntaylor’s family.
While everyone else exchanges cards, flowers and loving wishes, they’ll remember it as the day Johntaylor received the ultimate valentine—a lifesaving heart transplant.
Back in 1991, the Yauillas had no reason to suspect their first child would be anything other than healthy. “Every doctor’s visit was normal. The heartbeat was normal,” dad John recalls. “When his mother and I went in for the delivery, they did a c-section. And when he came out, he just was blue. He was using her heart and her oxygen to keep going. And as soon as they cut the cord, he just quit.”
Baby Johntaylor had to be resuscitated three times before eventually being transferred from De Soto Memorial in Arcadia to All Children’s Hospital. He was quickly diagnosed with critical aortic stenosis—a narrowing of the aortic valve that makes it hard for the heart to pump blood to the body. It could lead to heart failure in a matter of days. Within hours of his arrival, Johntaylor was in All Children’s Cardiac Catheterization Lab, where Dr. Jorge Giroud stretched open the narrowed valve using balloon angioplasty.
It bought Johntaylor time. But his parents knew their boy’s faulty valve would need to be replaced. Johntaylor was five years old when that surgery was successfully done at All Children’s.
“But the heart is a muscle,” dad explains. “With it working so hard to pump blood to the body, the muscle got thicker and thicker. And Johntaylor kept getting weaker.”
Mom Kim says it got to the point where Johntaylor couldn’t make it from one end of their Arcadia home to the other without getting winded. “One time we went to the movies, and by the time he walked into the theater he was so tired he just slept through the whole show.”
By spring of 2007, Johntaylor’s cardiologist at All Children’s, Dr. Alfred Asante-Korang, said it was time to replace more than a faulty valve. Johntaylor needed a heart transplant. His name went on the list and the wait for a donor began.
By the fall, routine tests showed Johntaylor’s heart function continuing to deteriorate. He could no longer afford to wait for transplant at his Arcadia home three hours from All Children’s. Johntaylor was admitted to the hospital, and the second floor Pediatric Intensive Care Unit—or PICU-2— became his home away from home.
Holidays came and went—Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s. Finally, just before midnight ushered in Valentine’s Day 2008, Johntaylor hugged his family and friends and walked into an All Children’s operating room for his lifesaving transplant.
Pediatric heart surgeon Dr. James Quintessenza led the team in the six-and-a half hour operation. Afterward, he described the success in words that still make Johntaylor’s father chuckle. “He said they took out his ‘57 Chevy motor and put in a Porsche engine.”
Within hours, Johntaylor was sitting up in the Cardiovascular ICU, breathing on his own. “The next day, he was up walking. He walked the halls 2-3 times,” dad recalls. “The quicker he could get out any tubes or wires or make another lap around the hallway, the sooner he could get back up to his PICU-2 family.”
After more than six months in All Children’s Hospital, the Yauillas really had come to think of the staff as family.
“You get to know everybody,” dad explains. “Johntaylor can go through and tell you everybody’s name, where they work—from the doctors on down to the janitors. I mean, you wind up with a bigger family when you’re here that long.”
…and a much longer farewell when the day of discharge comes. The Yauillas spent the evening of March 5th snapping photos and sharing hugs with the PICU-2 staff and transplant team before heading out of the hospital.
“I don’t think he wants to go home,” dad said with a laugh. “Really, truly I think he wants to stay here. He’s even talked about going to college to major in Child Life, so that he come back here and help kids.”
No matter what he chooses to do for a living, mom Kim is grateful for Johntaylor’s “second chance at life. I told him—now I get to watch you grow up to be a loving father and husband just like your dad.”
Kim says they’ll always treasure those who gave Johntaylor his second chance; the donor family, and the staff of All Children’s Hospital. “Words can’t express how we really feel,” she says, as dad adds “We just can’t thank them enough.”
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