Local News

Young heart transplant patients united by disease, recovery

Posted December 12, 2010 2:48 p.m. EST

— Two local families are celebrating an early Christmas present this year: Two young heart transplant patients, who suffered from the same disease, are coming home.

Seven-year old Deasia Washington had been at Duke Children's Hospital since February. She had cardiomyopathy, a condition that produces an enlarged and weakened heart muscle. The cause is unknown.

"Once she got here, she just got sicker and sicker," Deasia's mother, Veronica Williams, said.

Down the same hall at Duke Children's Hospital, 17-year-old Josh Winstead had the same problem. He was admitted in early November.

"I had no idea I had anything wrong with my heart. I was a healthy guy, running up and down the field days before coming to the hospital," Winstead said.

The two patients' paths crossed as they and their families prayed for donor hearts.

"Every time (Deasia) walked by, she stopped and waved," Winstead said.

The two patients "kind of kept each other encouraged. They became really really close really fast," Williams said.

Josh had another friend at Duke Hospital. Two floors above, his 26-year-old brother Edwin was hospitalized with a similar heart issue. He passed away on Nov. 20 before a donor heart could be found.

Despite his own weakened condition, Winstead wanted to be at his brother's funeral.

"I really don't care what you all say," he said. "I want to get to my brother's funeral, whether I'm walking out here, flying out of here, rolling out of here – however you want to do it."

Medical staff took him by ambulance for the service.

Meanwhile, Deasia, who'd been on an external heart pump for several months, finally got the call on the Monday before Thanksgiving. A donor heart was ready.

On Thanksgiving Day, Winstead was scheduled for surgery to receive a mechanical heart pump, but then a donor heart arrived.

"I woke up with a tube in my throat and a heart in my chest, instead of a pump," he recalled.

Both patients came far enough along in recovery to finally leave the hospital – on the same day.

"She was four days ahead of me with her heart," Winstead said. "But I guess I caught up to her and we're on our way out."

Before returning home to Farmville, Deasia and her parents will stay close to Duke at the Ronald McDonald House in a more homey environment.

Winstead is going home to Wakefield in northern Wake County. He's still on schedule to graduate from Wakefield High School this school year.

Both patients still have many follow-up exams and tests, but they're both excited about being out of the hospital in time to celebrate Christmas with their families.