Durham, N.C. — About 111,000 people are waiting for a matching organ donor in the U.S., and many of them are children born with heart defects, waiting for a new heart.
One Asheville girl on the transplant list wasn't sure she wanted to go through with it until she met a new friend who changed her mind.
When Courtney Montgomery was 8, she was diagnosed with a condition in which the heart muscle becomes abnormally thick, making it more difficult to pump blood. Several surgeries, including an implantable defibrillator/pacemaker and medications, kept her going until she turned 16.
“With her disease, the sudden death factor was always there and there were nights when she wouldn't know if she'd wake up the next day,” sad Michelle Mescall, Courtney’s mother.
Courtney needed a heart transplant, but says she was “completely opposed to the idea at first.”
“I didn't want anything to do with it,” she said.
Courtney said she thought life after a transplant wouldn't be the normal life she desired. Then, social workers introduced her to 18-year-old Josh Winstead, who received a donor's heart and left Duke Hospital last December.
“I didn't look to change her mind. I just showed her (that) I'm a normal kid, I do this, do that, just like any other person,” Winstead said.
Courtney changed her mind almost immediately, and a donor heart became available on April 26. She went right into surgery with wonderful results.
“Now I am so grateful. It's beyond grateful. It's like literally the gift of life,” Courtney said.
“They have truly given me my daughter back,” Mescall said.
Just one week before the surgery, before her condition became critical, Winstead invited Courtney on a date.
“I went to the prom with Josh, and it was amazing. It was really the best night of my life,” she said.
The two have special hearts in common, as well as the same cardiologist, Dr. Michael Carboni, who loves happy endings.
“It feels pretty good. It's what I come to work for. It's what keeps me going,” Carboni said.
People are more accustomed to seeing older men and women in need of heart transplants, according to WRAL Heath Team Physician Dr. Allen Mask.
“For them, the recovery may be more difficult. Young patients, like Courtney and Josh, do have youth on their side,” Mask said. “Both of them love sports. Courtney was a cheerleader at her school in Asheville before a year and a half ago when her condition became more serious. She'll still need to stay close to Duke for follow up visits over the next month to make sure her body isn't rejecting the new heart.”
The big question is what chances someone like Courtney has to find a matching donor in time.
“(Courtney’s) condition had grown critical and she became a level 1A patient, a top priority for the next available matching heart, which happened on April 26,” Mask said. “Now, Courtney and her family are dedicated to promoting organ donation so more lives like hers can be saved.”