Prayers answered: Central Texas toddler gets a new heart

Barron Shoemaker with his father, Luke, after the transplant in Houston. (Courtesy photo)
By  | 

TEMPLE, Texas (KWTX) -- The prayers of the parents of a 22-month-old Temple, Texas boy with a failing heart who doctors say couldn't have survived much longer without it were answered this week.

Without a transplant, Barron Shoemaker, who’s been a patient living at Texas Children's Hospital in Houston since September, would have had only months to live.

But the call for which he and his parents were waiting came early Tuesday morning, and Barron received a successful transplant during a 15-hour surgery that stretched through the night.

On Friday he was awake and recovering quicker and better than doctors expected.

"Someone took his heart out of him and put another one in him, it's a surreal thing," Barron’s father, Luke, said Friday.

Luke was at the hospital during the surgery, but the boy’s mother, Ashley, hasn’t been able to visit because the hospital is closed to visitors in an effort to slow the spread of COVID-19.

Luke and Ashley have pretty much been living at the hospital for the last six months, rotating shifts as they continued to work at their jobs in Central Texas.

Barron was flown to the Houston hospital last September after his parents took him to the emergency room of McLane Children’s Hospital in Houston because he was experiencing shortness of breath.

Doctors had originally diagnosed him with asthma.

But in Houston Luke and Ashley learned their son didn’t have asthma, but instead heart failure, and only had days to live without medical intervention.

Barron at first underwent a procedure to buy time as he waited for a transplant, for which there was no timetable.

Doctors implanted a Berlin Heart EXCOR, a pump that maintains blood flow to babies and small children to provide support and provide a bridge for pediatric patients awaiting a transplant.

But the family had no idea if that transplant would ever happen.

"You wake up tomorrow and your kid can't get out of bed and you have to tell your kid 'you can't out of bed until you have a new heart and I don't know when that's going to be.'”

“That's how you feel. It's hopeless," Luke said.

But Sunday, six months to the day and within the same hour that the family arrived at Texas Children's in September, Barron's doctor came in just as Luke was rocking Barron to sleep with the news a donor had been located.

"I think relief. I think shock," Luke said.

"The longer you are here the easier it is to lose faith and hope even though that's not the right thing. It's just natural to do that. The tears and the emotions sunk in after the fact, but just relief knowing that we have another opportunity at life."

Barron's medical team made a four hour flight to pick up the heart which was flown by jet to Houston Hobby International Airport and then by helicopter to the hospital.

Surgery was delayed for a few hours as the donor heart underwent additional COVID-19 testing to make sure it was virus-free.

Once cleared the little boy entered a nearly daylong surgery.

Barron's body accepted the heart perfectly and within 12 hours after the transplant, he was taken off a ventilator and began to breathe on his own, was sitting up in a bed unassisted and drinking from a sippy cup, progress that's almost unheard of so quickly.

"I think it's a testament to my son's courage and his will to fight," Luke said

Luke said if all goes as planned his son could be discharged within a few weeks and maybe walking by today.

The family doesn't know the story behind the child whose heart was donated, but said they do have a message for the parents who made the gut wrenching decision which saved their son's life.

"I'm just so thankful that somebody in this crazy world we live in had the wherewithal to say 'we want to donate life.' That's a huge commitment from a parent to donate life for their kid and because of that my son will live."