Christmas came a few weeks early for 14-year-old Chance Fulford of Evans.
Dec. 5 was when the Augusta Christian Schools pupil received the best gift he could hope for -- a new heart.
"This will definitely be the most memorable Christmas ever," Chance said. "I really don't even want anything for Christmas now."
"This one is the absolute best," said Chance's mother, Debbie Fulford, a third-grade teacher at Riverside Elementary School in Evans. "We are actually living a miracle."
Chance received the lifesaving gift at Shands Hospital in Gainesville, Fla. Besides coinciding with the Christmas season, the heart transplant came two days before Chance's birthday.
"Everything went just as well as we could have hoped for," said Mike Fulford, Chance's father. "He walked probably 100 feet today. That's the most he's done so far."
Since July, when Chance was placed at the top of a list of transplant candidates, the Fulfords had been awaiting news of an available heart for the teen.
Chance, who was diagnosed with muscular dystrophy at age 8, needed the transplant because of complications from the disease.
"His heart had been bad for quite some time," Mr. Fulford said. "He was just really tired all the time."
The Fulfords got the call while watching a football game and had just three hours to reach Gainesville. Luckily, Mr. Fulford works for Club Car, which allowed his family to use a company plane. The Fulfords departed from Augusta Regional Airport at Bush Field.
"We had three hours," Mr. Fulford said. "But we actually beat most of the transplant team here."
Throughout the wait leading up to that moment and even afterward, the Fulfords said, community support has gotten them through the stress.
"It's been amazing with all of the cards and phone calls and letters we've received," Mr. Fulford said. "And all of the prayers. People have gotten their friends all around the country to pray for Chance."
Two months ago, Riverside Elementary held a replacement blood drive for Chance's surgery. The school has set up a trust fund to help the family pay medical bills. It's called the Chance Fulford Fund and donations can be made at area Wachovia Bank branches or to the school.
However, the Fulfords know the community's support would have been in vain had it not been for Chance's anonymous donor.
"We're just so grateful to the donor family and really want to acknowledge them," Mrs. Fulford said.
More good news is that Chance's disease affected only his heart and no other organs, allowing him to return to normal activities.
"He's just really happy," Mr. Fulford said. "It's like he's got his old personality back."
Chance is staying at a Shands Hospital apartment awaiting a final checkup Thursday. He's suffered only from minor nausea and is doing so well that doctors expect him to return home by Christmas Eve, said Barbara Williams, a nurse practitioner for Shands.
And when they get home, Chance and his father hope to treat themselves to at least one more present when he has completely recovered.
"He loves golf," Mr. Fulford said. "We played a lot of golf before he got sick. And I just can't wait to go back and get back on the golf course with him."
Reach Preston Sparks at (706) 868-1222,Ext. 110.