When parents talk about their child’s transplant, they’ll use words like “miracle,” “answered prayer,” or “life changing.” But when it comes to talking about the organ donor and his or her family—words are hard to find. That’s because they know their child’s life was saved at the same time another family faced a heartbreaking loss.
No one understands this better than Chanda and Chris Tracy. In November of 2009, their sunny, blue-eyed blonde daughter-- Ava Gail-- passed away from complications of dilated cardiomyopathy. Unbelievably, as Ava endured repeated hospitalizations, tests, and deteriorating health, Chanda and Chris found out that Ava’s younger sister, Bryn, had the same condition.
“Not long after Ava passed, Bryn’s health dramatically declined,” says Ava and Bryn’s mom, Chanda Tracy. “Bryn was tired all the time, had no appetite and required around the clock IV medication to keep her heart beating.”
Eventually, Bryn was placed on the transplant list. “We really struggled,” says Chanda. “All we could do was pray for the strength to get through what Bryn was facing. We prayed for strength; for our daughter, for ourselves and for all of her doctors and nurses at St. Louis Children’s Hospital. We just couldn’t bring ourselves to pray for a heart because we knew what that meant for another family.”
In late December of 2010, the Tracys got the phone call they had been waiting for. “When we arrived at St. Louis Children's Hospital, the same nurse who cried with me when Ava passed wheeled Bryn down to her room to prepare for the transplant—it was like we had come full circle. Bryn went to the room that was right next door to room where Ava had passed.” It was difficult, according to Chris and Chanda, but the family also found it healing.
“Because we had spent so much time at Children’s, it seemed like everyone knew us—from the front desk attendants, to the doctors and nurses to the housekeeping staff. We smiled because the people in the cafeteria would warmly greet Bryn and call her “cheese fry girl” because that was her favorite snack.”
“I love the fact that they care for the whole family at St. Louis Children’s Hospital—not just the patient, says Chanda. “Considering that they have thousands of people walk through the door every day, it speaks volumes that they remembered our family and both of my daughter’s names. It is really tough to have a sick child, but the kindness of people—not to mention the amazing medical care—made all the difference to us.”
Thanks to Dr. Charles Canter and his staff, Bryn’s transplant went off without a hitch. “When it was time for Bryn to start waking up, there were several of us around her bedside—doctors, nurses and my husband Chris and me. We were all anticipating her very first words with her new heart. We thought she would say something like ‘I love you mommy’ or ‘I love you daddy.’ We couldn’t help but laugh when she opened up her mouth and said, “I want some cheese fries!”
Bryn enjoyed her cheese fries the next day. And now, thanks to her donor heart, she’s also enjoying all of the things a typical six years old should be doing. “We used to have to carry her because she was too weak to walk,” says Chanda. Now she is riding her bike everywhere! She loves magic, her Bernese mountain dog and she can beat virtually anyone at Super Mario Brothers. She’s also got her appetite back—she’s gained eleven pounds in just three months!
After all the Tracy family has been through, they don’t take a single moment for granted. Chanda still finds her thoughts about her daughter’s heart donor and what the transplant means to them hard to put into words. "We really needed a miracle—and we got one. Thanks to one family’s gift, and everyone at St. Louis Children’s Hospital, Bryn is back to being a normal kid—and that is all that Bryn wants to be.”