Heart transplant allows 9-year-old boy to be a kid again; family pushing for more research

Heart transplants tend to fail after 10-15 years, research could lengthen that

A little boy gets to be a kid again, thanks to the gift of life.

A little boy gets to be a kid again, thanks to the gift of life.

Playing video games, jumping on a trampoline, playing with his sister -- all things most 9-year-old children take for granted, but for Rexford, it wasn't always that way.

"It's a journey. And, I just want people to understand our journey," said Rexford's mother, Shirley Wickman.

Rexford is the recipient of a heart transplant. His new heart lets him run and plan. His parents, however, want to express that a transplant is a treatment, not a cure. They're focused on supporting research to make transplanted organs last longer.

"Rexford was a normal little boy playing basketball. I was coaching his league and didn't know anything was wrong until we found out something was wrong," said his father, Jeff Wickman.

"I see a healthy little boy playing basketball like everyone else. Normal kid. Three days later he was in school at gym class and he collapsed," Shirley Wickman said.

Rexford was taken to C.S. Mott Children's Hospital where he was diagnosed with a form of congenital heart disease.

"EKG was quite normal. And then when they put the echo on his chest they knew something was wrong," Shirley Wickman said. "I could tell by the reaction of the doctor when she put it on his chest: restrictive cardiomyopathy."

"Luckily, his lung pressures were good because we knew at that point that we were on the transplant journey," she said. "After the diagnosis, he was completely restricted. He couldn't play sports. We were very careful even for him to run up the stairs because we were afraid of another cardiac event."

"We couldn't get his heart rate above 110. You try to keep a 9-year-old from getting his heart rate above 110. It's impossible," Jeff Wickman said.

As they waited, Rexford's condition worsened and he was moved up the transplant list. On Nov. 23, 2018, they got a call for which they'll forever be thankful.

"We went to the hospital within an hour and a half. Waited 21 hours for the heart. And, he woke up on the 24th of November," Shirley Wickman said. "With a new heart. His heart was loud. You could hear it on the other side of the room.

"He's Rexford again," Jeff Wickman said.

Dr. John Charpie is the director of pediatric cardiology at C.S. Mott and said hearts tend to fail 10 to 15 years after their transplantation. But he thinks research could help change that.

"The more we can learn about what the reasons for that are and which patients are more susceptible to that, we can truly impact the longevity of that transplanted heart," Charpie said.

"That's our goal that he never has to go through this again, that this will be his heart for many, many years and we won't have to worry about another transplant," Shirley Wickman said.

The Wickmans are sharing their story to encourage people to support research on heart transplants.

Friday is the sixth annual Caden's Full Throttle event at Zingerman's Cornman Farms. Money raised will go to congenital heart research and pediatric heart transplant at C.S. Mott Children's Hospital.

Caden’s Full Throttle Event

About the Author:

Jamie anchors sports coverage on Local 4 News Saturdays at 6 & 11 p.m. and Sunday at 6 p.m., in addition to hosting Sports Final Edition.