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Jonathan: ‘Taking Advantage of the Second Chance That I Got’

February 09, 2022

Jonathan was just 12 years old when what seemed to be a never-ending flu brought him to an emergency room at a hospital near his home in DeKalb.

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Jonathan as an inpatient at Children's Memorial Hospital more than a decade ago with his late mother, Shirley

An active and healthy kid, Jonathan and his mother, Shirley, never would have guessed that a series of tests would reveal not a virus, but instead a serious heart condition called dilated cardiomyopathy. Jonathan’s heart was greatly enlarged and not pumping correctly because the muscle was weakened.

The family was referred to Lurie Children’s – then Children’s Memorial Hospital – which has a nationally ranked Children’s Heart Center. Doctors there told the family a heart transplant was the likely only chance for Jonathan’s full recovery.

Lurie Children’s performed Illinois’ first pediatric heart transplant in 1988 and has done more than 400 since last fall. The hospital’s Pediatric Heart Failure and Heart Transplantation Program is the only program of its kind in Illinois and a leading transplant program in the country.

Jonathan waited for six weeks, celebrating his 13th birthday as an inpatient, for a heart to become available – and it did just before Easter Day in 2008, when he underwent a heart transplant.

“It was a special day,” he recalled.

13 years later …

Today, Jonathan is 26 years old. He was able to graduate high school on time despite the interruption of the transplant in part thanks to the hospital helping accommodate his tutors and teachers, he said. Also a college graduate, Jonathan currently works as a police officer in DeKalb. He recently got engaged to his girlfriend and is planning a June wedding.

“I’ve been doing really well,” he said. “I haven’t had any complications or major setbacks. I’m taking advantage of the second chance that I got to the fullest of my ability.”

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Jonathan on one of his many travels. “Whenever I get the chance to, I hop on a plane and try to go see somewhere new," he said.

Jonathan values travel and seeing new places – a pastime he couldn’t partake in often as a child. His favorite destination so far: The Bahamas. “Whenever I get the chance to, I hop on a plane and try to go see somewhere new.”

Sadly, Jonathan’s mother Shirley passed away in 2014. But he remains close with his family, especially his brother Justin who is only 11 months older than him. He also keeps in touch with some of the Lurie Children’s providers who cared for him years ago, including Genevieve Frey, RN, Director of Lurie Children’s Cardiac Care Unit, who served as a bedside nurse in the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit at Children’s Memorial when Jonathan was a patient.

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Jonathan with his former nurse at Children's Memorial, Genevieve Frey, MSN, RN, CPN, who is now Director of Lurie Children's Cardiac Care Unit during a recent visit

“Even as a teen, he really understood and appreciated the gravity of the gift of a new organ,” Genevieve said. “I was always so proud of him because he understood how important caring for his new heart was and he was responsible with maintaining his medications — which is especially impressive at such a young age. It’s been so rewarding to stay in touch and see him achieve major life milestones.”

Said Jonathan, “I’m living proof that even though something negative with my health was happening, that I’m able to live a happy, healthy, normal life.”

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