Originally created 10/31/00

Children celebrate transplant



The whole class stared at Daniel Moretz as he walked in the door, and he looked up startled.

"Happy Birthday to you," sang Judy Monsalvatge's fourth-grade class at Lake Forest Hills Ele-mentary School. Daniel won't turn 10 until Feb. 12, but Monday was special for another reason.

"Happy Birthday, Daniel's heart. Happy Birthday to you."

Daniel tried to hide his face behind a book, but the grin on the heart transplant recipient had grown. His class surprised him with the party, and his family is marking the anniversary of the surgery by remembering Daniel's donor and urging others to become organ donors.

A year before, the phone rang at 3 a.m. in the Boston apartment where Daniel and his family waited. Born with the major vessels of his heart reversed and a malformed right ventricle, the Augusta boy had endured 10 surgeries and needed three pacemakers. Last fall, his heart was finally giving out, and he was put on the transplant waiting list at Boston Children's Hospital.

Sitting at his desk, spooning up cake, Daniel can remember what he was thinking when his mother, Julie, woke him with the news.

"I was like, `Oh, why can't it be tomorrow?"' Daniel said. "Because then we get Halloween in the hospital."

This year, he gets Halloween at home, with a different life for him and his family. David and Julie Moretz want to keep in mind the person who made that possible: the donor whose identity they don't know but whose decision made it possible. The family mailed out nearly 800 cards with a message of thanks to friends and to the donor's family, along with a green ribbon pin for organ donor awareness and a card to sign up.

"While we are celebrating, obviously there's another family today grieving the loss of their child," Mrs. Moretz said. She wrote the family on Mother's Day through the transplant program, but it will be up to them whether to accept the letter or make contact.

"We want them to know we are appreciative that they chose to give another child life," she said.

These anniversaries can often be a "bittersweet" occasion for the family, their celebration tempered by the recognition of another family's sacrifice, said Rick Lofgren, president of the Children's Organ Transplant Association in Bloomington, Ind.

"You recognize that someone's life was spared and mourn that someone else's life was lost," Mr. Lofgren said.

The families of recipients often become advocates, as do the donor families, said Rachel Simons, public relations coordinator for LifeLink of Georgia, which coordinates organ donation in the state.

"A lot of times it is the donor families themselves who realize that it helped them with their grief and helped them realize that out of tragedy something good can happen," she said.

The cake went quickly in Mrs. Monsalvatge's classroom, while homemade cards with messages such as "You have a good heart" began to pile up on Daniel's desk.

"The whole class planned this?" he asked Kelley Jones, 9.

"Yep," she said, grinning.

While they mark the milestone, Mrs. Moretz said she is ready to leave behind years marked by waiting and hoping.

"I know I'm just ready at this point to move on ahead and let him do normal things that normal boys do," she said.

But although Daniel's annual checkup showed no sign of rejection, he still must take daily doses of anti-rejection drugs and get checked again in three months, Mr. Moretz said.

"We've got to continue to count our blessings," he said.

Reach Tom Corwin at (706) 823-3213.

Nation needs donors

Although the number of people receiving transplants has increased, the number waiting also has increased, and the need for more donors will grow. As of Saturday, there were 72,585 people waiting for an organ to become available for transplant, including 1,069 people in Georgia. About 10 percent of them are children. There were 4,114 waiting for a new heart, including 93 in Georgia. For more information on organ donation, call LifeLink of Georgia in Augusta at (706) 854-0333, or the Children's Organ Transplant Association at (800) 366-2682.