It began as a stomachache that would not go away. Just a few months shy of his seventh birthday in January 2008, Rylen Littlejohn experienced severe pain in his stomach. Then he started vomiting. When that would not stop, his mother, Kim Littlejohn, took him to the doctor where he was mistakenly diagnosed with a 48-hour stomach virus.
Days later, Rylen was so severely dehydrated that he was sent to Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta. X-rays were taken and the results were serious: the problem was not Rylen’s stomach, it was his heart. He was immediately transferred to the Children’s Michael P. Fisher Cardiac Intensive Care Unit (CICU) and was diagnosed with dilated cardiomyopathy, a condition in which the heart becomes weakened and enlarged and cannot pump blood efficiently.
Rylen’s doctors did not know exactly what had caused his cardiomyopathy, and all available medical therapies did not help his heart to recover. Rylen needed a new heart.
He waited 30 days before a suitable donor was located. The surgery was a success, and doctors cleared Rylen to go home less than a week later. With no current signs or rejection, Rylen’s doctors say that his growth and development are on track for his age.
Two months after his transplant, Rylen kayaked across a lake at Camp Braveheart. Today, Rylen is an active 7-year-old. Kim credits the expert care provided by Children’s and her enduring personal faith with getting her through the ordeal. When asked what she has learned from Rylen’s unique experience, she does not hesitate to answer, “Live each day to the fullest and never lose your faith.”