Family follows journey their son’s heart took to transplant in 8-year-old

Two families, now connected through one heartbeat, reunited for the young transplant recipient’s 10th birthday.

A day of tragedy in Charles City, Iowa, has led to lasting friendship and love for two families connected through one heartbeat.

After Lenny and Wendy Luft’s 15-year-old son was injured in an all-terrain vehicle accident, his condition worsened. As it became clear he wouldn’t survive, they decided to donate his organs.

“It was a time of great sorrow, and we were grieving the death of our child,” Wendy said. “But at the same time, every time the staff at our hospital would tell us they found a recipient for his liver or his kidney or heart, we would celebrate because we knew Logan would live on through these other people.”

One of those celebrations was for a young girl at Norton Children’s Hospital. An 8-year-old girl born with multiple heart conditions — any one of which would have been a critical issue — had been in and out of the hospital most of her life. When Logan’s heart became available, she had been in the hospital for six months waiting for a lifesaving transplant. That gift came on July 7, 2017.

Her family has given Norton Children’s permission to tell her story, but asked that her name not be used.

The journey of their son’s heart

The Luft family met the girl for the first time in November 2018. The bond was instantaneous. They got to hear their son’s heartbeat and meet the spunky and playful young lady who is carrying on Logan’s legacy. Their relationship has continued, and the two families wanted to gather for her 10th birthday celebration.

While the Luft family was in Louisville, they also wanted to meet the many caregivers who played a role in the transplant and see the places their son’s heart traveled during the transplant process.

“We want to know everything and meet everyone to tell them thank you for not only taking such precious care of Logan’s heart in the process but also for taking care of [the girl] in her time before and after the transplant,” Wendy said.

On Aug. 16, the Lufts were given that opportunity to follow the journey of their son’s heart. Jennifer Thomas, DNP, nurse manager of transplant services at Norton Children’s Hospital; along with Deborah J. Kozik, D.O., cardiothoracic surgeon with UofL Physicians – Cardiovascular and Thoracic Surgery; and Natalie S. Henderson, M.D., critical care physician with UofL Physicians – Pediatric Critical Care; took Logan’s parents step by step through the transplant process.

That included the emergency department where Logan’s heart arrived, the operating room where Dr. Kozik and others implanted it and the pediatric intensive care unit where the young girl started her recovery. Along the way, the Lufts met physicians, nurses, respiratory therapists and many, many more caregivers who protected and transplanted their son’s heart.

“It was amazing to see more than 50 members of the medical teams from Norton Children’s Hospital and the University of Louisville Medical School, along with Kentucky Organ Donor Affiliates (KODA)share their gratitude to the Luft family for helping save … a patient we had all taken care of and grown to love,” Jennifer said.

Before the Luft family left to return home, the staff presented them with a teddy bear with a very special recording. Inside the bear is a speaker box that plays Logan’s heartbeat as it sounded shortly after transplant. The Luft family was overjoyed.

More than just a patient

Returning to the hospital two years after her transplant, the young heart recipient was the center of attention for many of the staff and caregivers. Many have grown to love and cherish her. So when the opportunity came up to help her celebrate her 10th birthday, everyone was on board.

Norton Children’s Heart Institute, affiliated with the University of Louisville

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She was reunited with many of her nurses and doctors, and especially her favorite employee, Guy Harvey, an environmental services associate at Norton Children’s Hospital. Everyone gathered to help celebrate a life that at times seemed so fragile.

Reunions can be especially sweet for caregivers. Often, the child doesn’t need to return to the hospital after recovery, so doctors, nurses and others sometimes don’t get the chance to see a child who was once so sick now enjoying life.

“When we have the opportunity to see a patient … who is happy, healthy and flourishing, we are extremely grateful,” Dr. Kozik said.