Suffolk teen receives heart

Published 12:23 am Saturday, December 31, 2016

A Suffolk teen and her family received an early Christmas present — a new heart — this year.

Jasmine Chalmers received her new heart during a transplant operation that lasted more than 13 hours starting on Dec. 11 and ending Dec. 12.

“I got the best Christmas gift I could have gotten,” said Jasmine’s mother, Chaunta.

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Jasmine, now 13, was born with a congenital defect in her heart. She had her first surgery at the age of 3 months. By the time Jasmine was 5, the family knew Jasmine would eventually need a heart transplant, but she’s only been on the waiting list since last September. The defect caused her to grow more slowly than other kids her age, left her with no appetite and low energy, and caused her heart valves to leak and cause swelling and fluid in her lungs.

She went in the hospital in November, and it was determined she would have to stay until she received a transplant. She went to the University of Virginia in Charlottesville to wait for the transplant.

Chaunta said she was shocked at how quickly the donor heart became available. When two doctors walked into Jasmine’s room at 10:30 p.m. on a Saturday night, she asked them what was wrong.

“She proceeded to tell me they had a heart for Jasmine,” Chaunta said. “My initial response was, ‘What heart?’ We had prepared to be there longer than we were. It was really kind of overwhelming to me.”

Jasmine’s reaction when informed was a sleepy “OK,” Chaunta said.

She contacted family, including her husband, Charles, who was in Suffolk with Jasmine’s younger brother, who is 12.

“We’re trying to keep his life as normal as possible,” Chaunta said.

The next day, doctors spent nearly the entire day preparing Jasmine for surgery. She went into surgery about 5:30 p.m. and came out about 6:30 a.m. on Monday.

Jasmine was sedated for about six days, but then doctors started letting her come out of the sedation. She now is able to eat, talk, move around and walk for short periods of time.

Her father, Charles, said Jasmine passed out candy to others on the floor on Christmas Day, wearing a pink Santa hat.

Jasmine and Chaunta have taken a class on the anti-rejection medications she will now have to take for the rest of her life.

“She’s 13 now, so she needs to know the importance of taking it every day, on time,” Chaunta said.

They anticipate staying in the hospital for about a month, and they will have to stay in the Charlottesville area for at least 30 days in order to be monitored by doctors. They will stay at the Ronald McDonald House.

Chaunta said the family doesn’t know anything about the origin of the donor heart. If they do get the opportunity to find out, if the donor’s family agrees, it will be up to Jasmine to decide, Chaunta said.

Jasmine’s parents said they have been blessed by the support of the community.

“You wouldn’t believe the type of support I have received and Jasmine has received,” Chaunta said.

John Yeates Middle School, where Jasmine attends, and Creekside Elementary School, where she used to attend, both held fundraisers, as did Forest Glen Middle School, where Jasmine never even attended.

Neighbors, church family, coworkers and others have all stepped up.

“The entire community has been so wonderful and gracious to us,” Charles said. “Everybody has reached out and been very, very kind to us.”

Jasmine’s story illustrates just how urgently organ donors are needed. More than 121,000 people in the United States are on the waiting list for a lifesaving transplant, and about 21 die every day after not receiving one.

For more information on organ donation, visit www.donatelifevirginia.org.