Feb. 26--Her 10-year-old son was fine, all the tests had come back negative, and then suddenly, out of the corner of her eye, Sherri Withrow saw her son's leg dangling listlessly off the bed in the emergency room. His heart had stopped.
She tried to rouse the boy, Marquis Davis, then she pushed the emergency button and fell to the floor in shock.
Months later, the Lexington woman struggles to recall the torrent of images as she relives what happened next. Doctors and nurses flooded the room, a determined rush of noise and mayhem. Her son lay motionless. The whining buzz of the heart monitor had gone flat.
Just days before, Marquis, a bright Liberty Elementary School fifth-grader with an easy grin and a love of Nike Jordan shoes, complained of a stomachache. And now, she said, she was afraid he was "never coming home."
Marquis had always been a fighter, his mom said. He was born at Cincinnati Children's Hospital with a condition called hypoplastic left heart syndrome, which results in incomplete formation of the heart's left side. "He's been fighting since he got here," Withrow said.
He thrived after a heart transplant in 2005, when he was a toddler, she said. He had barely ever had a cold.
But on Nov. 11, the transplanted heart that had sustained Marquis gave out.
Withrow said she had watched him intently for signs of trouble, but her brown-eyed boy had never had anything more serious than an ear infection. When he began to complain about stomach pain, she took him to the clinic at the University of Kentucky Chandler Hospital and was sent home with medicine the doctors thought would ease Marquis' pain. That was a Friday. By Sunday, she said, her son hadn't bounced back and was sluggish. At some point, she noticed a vein in his neck pulsing frantically.
"I had never seen anything like that," she said.
In the ER, as they performed tests, all of which were coming back normal, Marquis' heart stopped.
When he was stable enough, he was transported to Cincinnati Children's Hospital, where he had been a patient since his transplant.
Although the team at UK did a good job in reviving Marquis, the boy's chances of survival were slim, said Dr. Clifford Chin, director of pediatric heart transplant services at the children's hospital.
Even after years, rejection is the top cause of problems with any transplanted organ, he said.
"Any transplanted organ genetically belongs to someone else," he said. The body will always work to expel it.
Withrow said her son was on a slew of medicines designed to stem complications. The sudden attack was difficult to understand. "I am still trying to figure out what happened," she said.
Chin, the transplant services director, said the first instinct with a patient like Marquis is to find him another heart. But the team at Cincinnati Children's Hospital, and Marquis' mother, decided on a different approach.
The idea, Chin said, was to give his first transplanted heart a chance to rest and rebuild. Marquis was given medicine, for example, to address the stiffness of his heart muscle after the trauma, but he also was placed on a mechanical heart called a left ventricular assist device, or LVAD.
Chin said a large team "had to work together on a very difficult and very emotional case."
Marquis was heavily sedated during the initial part of his three-month hospital stay, but his mother experienced every painful twist in his treatment.
Chin praised Withrow for a balanced, calm approach to her son's care. "The thing that was just remarkable was the mother," he said. "No parent I am aware of can actually do this without completely falling apart."
Withrow's steadfastness, Marquis' strength and the hard work of the medical team meant the heart that would have been transplanted to save him could go to another child.
Marquis came home last week to the Lexington house just down the street from Liberty Elementary, where he hopes to return to classes soon. He's still swollen because of the steroids he takes to help his heart repair, and he's a little bored with staying home without anyone to play with.