The 18 year old Altoona Area High School senior was born with six congenital heart diseases and had four open heart surgeries before the age of five. When he was 12 years old, Dalton developed a condition call “protein losing enteropathy”. It starves the body of necessary proteins and caused him to be shorter than his brother who is six years younger.
By the time he was 15, the condition had taken a toll on his heart.
His mother, Dawn, commented, “Dalton woke up one morning and was so filled with fluid, he couldn’t open his eyes. We went back to Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh and our cardiologist told us there was nothing more that he could do. Dalton needed a heart transplant.”
Ready and Waiting
“He sent her a text that said, ‘I am still going…’ and told me, ‘Mom, I’m really sick. Going to the dance is going to make me happy.’ When we got home, Anna was there waiting for him.
With friends to support him; family who loved him; faith to guide him; and a positive attitude to carry him, Dalton was ready for what would come next.
A New Heart
After a month of testing, he was placed on the transplant list and just 10 days later, Dawn got the call that a heart was found. “It was 11:30 a.m. and I had to go get him out of school. When I got back home with Dalton, my aunt helped me pack and we were off to Pittsburgh,” she said.
The family waited 11 hours in the ICU as the heart was being transferred 500 miles away from Elkhart, Indiana. And then came some reassuring words. “Our doctor said, ‘Everybody makes it. I’ll see you in recovery. We’ll see you in ICU.’
The surgery took four hours. It was the shortest one he ever had and it was the best he ever looked coming out of surgery,” Dawn commented.
Meeting the Donor’s Mother
A few months later, Dalton was at Children’s Hospital for a procedure when Dawn was handed a letter. It was from Valerie Sinclair, a grieving mother who chose to donate this very special heart. “She wanted me to know about her twelve year old daughter, Da’jeianna, who was struck and killed by a vehicle while walking home from a playground.”
The letter set into motion a bond between both mothers. They began communicating by phone and social media before meeting in person.
CORE (Center for Organ Recovery & Education) was doing a collaborative meeting to train medical professionals on organ donation at the Sheraton Hotel in Pittsburgh. They arranged for both families to be there.
Dalton said, “I was nervous, but happy to meet Valerie. I brought a stethoscope so that she could hear Da’jeianna’s heart. With news crews covering the meeting and nurses and other medical professionals present, he added, “It was also good to spread the word about organ donation.”
Speaking of Organ Donation
In the three years since the transplant, Dalton has grown 10 inches and gained 60 pounds. He commented, “I wouldn’t be how I am today if Valerie hadn’t made that choice. I’m in the marching band. I play pick-up baseball and basketball games.”
The high school senior also travels throughout western Pennsylvania to speak about organ donation. His audiences have included high school students, prisoners at SCI Huntington who raised funds on behalf of Dalton for Make-A-Wish, and ICU nurses at Children’s Hospital who Dawn said, “see the donor, but never get to see the happy ending.”
Dalton is an amazing speaker. He always takes Da’jeianna’s photo with him. He has a deep emotional connection to her and doesn’t take this gift for granted.”
A New Beginning
This happy ending means a new beginning with Dalton planning for his future. And that includes a career of saving the lives of patients in dire need of care.
He explained, “After my transplant, I missed a year of school. During that time, our local ambulance service brought me in to show me what they do. I volunteered with them and became a first responder. Through this experience and because of the excellent nurses I had at Children’s Hospital, I plan to go to college to become a RN and possibly work as a LifeFlight Nurse.”
As he looks at colleges, Dawn said it’s hard to let go after caring for her oldest son all of his life. “He has a freedom now that he has never had. Just to see him fly and be free to come and go is a gift.”
A gift from Da’jeianna’s mom that will live on in Dalton, their families – and in everyone he meets.