Hunter’s Heart Journey Finds Hope

16-Year Old Has Successful Heart Transplant Surgery

SIOUX FALLS, S.D.—Last April, planning for a shopping sweep at Sunshine Foods in Sioux Falls was the least of Melissa Tillman’s worries.

Her son, Hunter, 16, was on a heart transplant list.

Complications were a part of Hunter’s life.

His heart was only thirty percent effective, plaguing him with fatigue and a blue hue on his skin.

Last Friday, March 31st, 2017, that life changed.

“We received the call about quarter to eight in the morning that the doctors had accepted a new heart for Hunter and they told us that we had to be here by five o’clock on Friday and then he went into surgery at four a.m. on Saturday morning,” Melissa said.

They had to get back to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota only two weeks after Hunter went through emergency appendix surgery.

“I started crying right away, I couldn’t believe that it came. Hunter jokingly said I just got home can we pass on this one? I said, no, we have to take this one,” said Tillman, with a laugh.

After a faster-than-expected eight hour surgery, a new sound can be heard inside this 16-year old.

“The heart is still beating away and not showing any signs of difficulty so that’s great. He’s on all kinds of rejection medication, obviously, but for the most part, the doctors are very, very happy with his progress,” said Tillman.

It’s a turnaround the Tillman family started to believe wouldn’t happen.

“After we waited for a year and a half, you almost started to give up hope a little bit that the call was never going to come,” said Tillman.

Now, it’s unlike anything they could imagine.

“For all of us that have been up here with him and him, himself, it is the first time in sixteen years we’ve ever seen this kid completely pink. It just blows our minds how amazing it is,” said Tillman.

It’s still early in this new experience for the family.

“It’s just the beginning so we don’t know the months to come yet. There is still the process of his body rejecting the heart but hopefully we’re a little bit over the hump and everything else will smooth as it has this whole week,” said Tillman.

Melissa said she does not what the circumstances were that brought Hunter’s new heart, but she says their family is grieving for the donor’s family.

In six months, the Tillman’s will be able to reach out to the family of the heart donor.


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