Oliver’s story: heart transplant saves 4 year old’s life

Brian and Leslie Blankenship know firsthand what “the gift of life” truly means. While Leslie was pregnant, their son Oliver was diagnosed with Hypoplastic Left Heart Syndrome, a rare, congenital heart defect in which the left side of the heart is underdeveloped. 

The family moved from Arkansas to Houston so Oliver could be treated at Texas Children’s Hospital, one of the country’s top hospitals in the U.S. for pediatric heart patients. Oliver was born at Texas Children’s in June 2018 and spent his first 234 days in the ICU.

"He had to go through a series of surgeries, the first one at 7 days old, not to correct the heart, but to make the right side of the heart do what the left side should do," Leslie said. "And that’s not necessarily life-sustaining, but it gets a lot of kids to a point where they can thrive. Unfortunately it’s not a cure, and a lot of kids like Oliver have complications."

Oliver had a second heart surgery a few months later at 4 and a half months old. Months after the second surgery, the family was able to move back to Arkansas for a couple of "great, uneventful years." But Oliver’s heart was still weakening, and after a third heart surgery at Texas Children’s in July 2022, Brian and Leslie learned he’d need a heart transplant to survive.

Of the 100,000 people waiting for a life-saving organ transplant in the United States, nearly 2,000 of them are children – and more than a quarter of them are under 5 years old.

According to Donate Life America, most children younger than 1 on the waiting list are in need of a heart transplant. Oliver had his heart transplant surgery on January 14, 2023. 

After 281 days in the hospital, Oliver went home in April, three months after receiving his new heart. "Without organ donation, he wouldn’t be here," an emotional Brian said. "It means everything."

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