It was already a red-letter day. Cavan Campbell was turning 9. When he opened his gifts before school, two tickets to the Monday Night Football game fell out of a new Seahawks cap.
The surprise birthday plan was for Cavan and his father, Jonathan Campbell, to be at CenturyLink Field on Sept. 24 watching the Seahawks play the Green Bay Packers. Cavan made it to the game. His dad didn’t.
Jennifer Campbell said her husband was right by her side that night. The Everett couple waited for hours at Seattle Children’s Hospital while their 4-month-old daughter had heart transplant surgery.
Hannah Mae Campbell, born May 18 in Everett, was featured in this column in August. The baby had been at Seattle Children’s struggling with what doctors initially diagnosed as two heart conditions: hypertrophic cardiomyopathy and supraventricular tachycardia.
Friends in Everett organized blood drives to bring awareness to Hannah’s plight, while the Campbells awaited word of a lifesaving gift — a donor heart.
On Monday, Jennifer Campbell talked about the emotional day she got that call. A suitable heart was available to help Hannah lead a healthy life. During Hannah’s months of struggle at Children’s, Campbell said she and her husband had been in four meetings when doctors told them they weren’t sure the baby would survive the night.
That terrible cloud lifted on the morning of Sept. 24.
After taking birthday-boy Cavan and his 6-year-old brother Bryce to school at View Ridge Elementary that morning, Jennifer Campbell called a nurse at Seattle Children’s. She spends most days at the hospital. That day, because Hannah’s condition was stable and the Seahawks game complicated the family’s schedule, she decided to stay home. She called the hospital to let Hannah’s nurse know that.
Campbell was on the phone with a close friend, Nancy Gilmore, when her phone signaled that Seattle Children’s was calling her back. The words she heard when she returned the call still ring in her ears: “The nurse said, ‘Jennifer, you need to change your plans. Everything is OK. Hannah got a heart today.’
“I just started crying,” Campbell said.
The surgery, headed by Seattle Children’s transplant team leader Dr. Lester Permut, would happen that day.
Campbell described enormous gratitude mixed with sadness for another family’s loss. “They don’t tell you at all, but someone is grieving,” she said. The donor’s identity and even location are strictly kept from the recipient family.
Hannah had been on a waiting list through the nonprofit United Network for Organ Sharing, which manages the nation’s transplant system under a federal contract. Because Hannah’s heart condition had enlarged her chest cavity, she could accommodate a heart larger than an infant’s, Campbell said.
They learned after the transplant that Hannah’s earlier diagnosis wasn’t what caused her life-threatening issues. Campbell said Hannah suffered from a benign tumor in the muscle wall of her heart, a condition called a diffuse rhabdomyomatosis.
Jonathan Campbell works for Seattle Parks and Recreation, and it took time to locate him at work Sept. 24. Gilmore accompanied Jennifer to Seattle Children’s, and Jonathan arrived in time for the surgery.
“They didn’t take her back for surgery until about 4 p.m.,” Gilmore said. It was almost midnight by the time the surgery was done.
“Cavan ended up going to the Seahawks game with his godfather,” Jennifer Campbell said.
She and her husband watched the game on TV during the seven-hour surgery. “They came out and said her new heart was beating just when that final play happened. You can’t make this stuff up,” she said.
Over the next two weeks, Hannah will be in intensive care and weaned off heavy pain medications. She’ll stay in the hospital as her parents are trained in administering up to 20 medications. Anti-rejection drugs will continue all her life, Campbell said. The family hopes to bring her home by Halloween.
For about six months, she can only be around immediate family because of a weakened immune system. “No church, no grocery store,” Campbell said. “Jon made a comment that it’s a good thing their house has lots of windows for drive-by viewing,” Gilmore added.
Someday, Campbell plans to read to Hannah all the cards that have come from well-wishers. And Sept. 24, 2012, will always be a special day.
Hannah won’t remember, but the rest of the family will never forget.
Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460; email@example.com.