By John Burton
Red Bank boy recovering after heart transplant surgery
RED BANK – This is a truly special Christmas for Duwayne Thomas Powell and his family.
Duwayne, 9, received a very special gift on Oct. 5 when he had a heart transplant, surgery that surely saved his life.
“To us this really is a miracle,” said Robert Sheard, Duwayne’s stepfather.
Sheard and Duwayne’s mother Angela Sheard sat with Duwayne in front of their Christmas tree in their Montgomery Terrace home and acknowledged there were times when Duwayne was ill, that they feared that this Christmas wouldn’t happen for the family.
Duwayne, a shy boy with a Mohawk haircut, was diagnosed in March with an enlarged heart, surrounded by fluid and – maybe the most troubling of all his symptoms – a blood clot in the organ. His area doctors had Duwayne transferred to Beth Israel Medical Center in Newark for treatment.
While there, Angela said with her voice lowered and her brow furrowed in concern, her little boy went into cardiac arrest when the blood clot shifted. That caused the doctors at the Newark hospital to immediately transfer him by helicopter to The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.
“He died for 15 minutes” in Philadelphia, Angela said with emotion. But, he was brought back to life and to her.
Last spring doctors at Children’s Hospital put Duwayne on an artificial heart, with a series of four tubes running through his stomach, allowing his blood to flow to the device and back into him. The machine, Duwayne said, made a constant “th-wump, th-wump” and was his constant companion as was the regular beep, beep, beep of the other monitors to which he was connected.
He and his family then awaited news about a possible donor.
During the incredibly difficult time, the family drew strength from their religious faith with all three firmly believing that God would provide for them in their time of need.
“If the challenge is too big for you, you have to turn it over to God,” Sheard said.
He and Angela Sheard said they never waivered in their belief that the Lord would find the best surgeon to care for Duwayne and he would get the blessing of life that they waited to receive.
“I think it was their faith that allowed them to find solace in the challenges ahead,” agreed the Rev. Terrence Porter, pastor of Pilgrim Baptist Church, 172 Shrewsbury Ave.
Porter and his wife regularly traveled to Philadelphia to visit Duwayne and offer their support for the family. “They seemed to be drawn closer together because of their faith,” as they faced the difficult time, Porter said.
Duwayne, his mother and stepfather’s prayers were answered on Oct. 4 with news of a suitable donor after eight months. First, though, the family – plus their church family – offered prayers for the donor and that family. Then Duwayne was in the hands of the surgeons and God, they said.
Surgery, performed Oct. 5, took about eight hours, Angela recalled. All went according to plan. Afterward, when Duwayne came out of the anesthesia, he gave his parents a broad smile.
“He just seemed so happy,” Angela Sheard said, smiling as she remembered the moment.
“That was an exciting day, the day he got his heart,” she said.
What Duwayne remembered was asking for chocolate milk.
Duwayne has been home for a few weeks but has to return regularly to the hospital for follow-ups with his team of doctors. He continues to take an extensive regiment of medications at specific times during the day to prevent his body from infections and from rejecting the heart.
Duwayne relies on his iPad, which contains his important medical information and informs him when it’s time to take his meds. But, he said, it’s also really cool for playing games.
“It’s going to be a long road for Duwayne,” Robert Sheard said.
For Duwayne, his interest right now is getting well enough to return to the primary school – which he plans on doing after the holiday break. He also hopes to be well enough to play football again at Count Basie Field and maybe grow up to be an astronaut and travel to Mars one day.
For Christmas, though, he’s hoping to get his own TV for his bedroom.
For Angela and Robert Sheard, they have their Christmas present. “It’s a miracle, a blessing, seeing Duwayne by the Christmas tree,” Robert Sheard said. “That’s all we wanted.”