When I race around the track in another 400 meter dash, I don’t think much about my racing heartbeat. But my mom does.
I came into the world on October 26, 1990. But the moment of joy most parents dream of became the nightmare all parents dread. I was less than one day old when the doctors discovered I had a rare, life-threatening heart condition called hypoplastic left heart syndrome, which basically means the left side of my heart didn’t develop right. It was untreatable.
I was rushed to another nearby hospital, but there, the prognosis wasn’t any better. The doctors told my mom to take me home, that there was nothing they could do to help. They told her I was going to die.
My mom isn’t the kind to give up easily, so as the days passed, she kept looking for help. Oddly enough, she found it in People Magazine where there was an article about a baby who received a heart transplant. Back then, those procedures were still pretty rare. But my mom was willing to do whatever she could, so she took me to Loma Linda University Medical Center in California.
Twenty-six days later, a baby boy named Danny gave me my second chance. He died in an accident, and his parents had the courage to see past their own grief to donate his heart to me.
Now, 18 years later, no one would probably guess that my life’s beginning was so tenuous. These days, I’m just a normal teenager—except that I really like school. I think I want to become a psychologist so I can help families with the struggles that affect them every day. Most days I hang out with my friends, and I also enjoy curling up on the couch for another episode of The Bachelorette. I love my 12-year-old brother Bryce, but he drives me crazy sometimes. And there just isn’t anything better than a big, hot plate of Italian food.
But every time I take my transplant medication, I know I’m a little different—and a lot luckier—than many. I got a second chance, and I want that to mean something. So when my friends are hanging out at the mall, my mom and I are often somewhere giving a presentation about the importance of organ donation.
My new heart is strong, and I keep it that way by running in track and field. Since 2000, I’ve competed in the Transplant Games all over the world, from Thailand to France. My mom embarrasses me when she brags about my medals, but I’m proud of them, too. I’ve sent many of my medals to Danny’s family. It’s the least I can do considering the life that they have given me.
It’s hard to believe that someone had to die in order for me to live. I think about that a lot. And I’m trying to make that gift mean something bigger.
I hope I succeed.
Brittney’s story was written by volunteer Gabrielle Johnston.
Photographs by Steve Nowland / Rich Clarkson & Associates.