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Redmond's Jason Richards home after seven months in hospital following heart transplant

After seven months in the hospital, 12-year-old Jason Richards is back home in Redmond, following a heart transplant and then contracting Legionnaires
After seven months in the hospital, 12-year-old Jason Richards is back home in Redmond, following a heart transplant and then contracting Legionnaires' disease.
— image credit: Samantha Pak, Redmond Reporter

When Jason Richards received a new heart in November 2012, it was supposed to give him a new lease on life.

But after being home for only a few weeks, the 12-year-old Redmond resident faced further medical compilations that put him in the hospital for about seven months. This was all following his initial three-month, post-operation stay — during which he was basically in quarantine and on various steroids and anti-rejection drugs to make sure his body accepted his new heart, his mother Janet Richards said.

Jason was born with Holt-Oram syndrome, which affects bones in the arms and hands. In addition, it may cause heart problems, and in Jason, this manifested in a number of heart defects, which he has had his whole life.

According to earlier reports, he went through multiple procedures before he was 4 and went into cardiac arrest when he was 10. He received a heart transplant on Nov. 28, 2012 when he was 11.

Jason said the transplant helped him a bit as he was able to be more active and was even able to chase one of his sisters around the house.

"I felt better," he said about his condition after his surgery.

A VICIOUS CYCLE

Jason's latest stay at Seattle Children's Hospital came after he contracted Legionnaires' disease, an extreme case of pneumonia that wreaked havoc on his body.

"It damaged his lungs severely," Janet said.

She added that they are still not sure where or how Jason contracted the airborne and waterborne disease as he was one of only two people in the Pacific Northwest to have had Legionnaires' at the time.

"It's very rare," Janet said.

While in the hospital, Jason was on a bilevel positive airway pressure machine — or a BiPAP — that helped him breathe since one of his lungs kept collapsing. In addition, Janet said doctors discovered other health issues: Her son had developed diabetes from one of his anti-rejection medications and had to go on insulin and his heart's right ventricle began failing.

"Which is troublesome because it's his new heart," she said.

Jason also contracted a virus that causes the common cold.

"It just became this vicious cycle," Janet said about all of the medical issues that kept cropping up. "It's like winning the lottery in reverse."

COMMUNITY SPIRIT

While all of this was happening, the owner of the Education Hill house the Richards were renting wanted to sell the house and they had to find a new place to live. The family was able to find and buy a house in the same area that kept the children — Jason has one older and one younger sister — in the same neighborhood schools.

Janet said this was thanks to the receptionist at Horace Mann Elementary School, who told them about the house when she had heard the owner was selling. The Richards were grateful because with Janet and her husband Colin Richards often splitting time between the hospital, work and home, school and church were the only two constants in their daughters' lives. Janet said they didn't want their children to have to deal with a new school on top of everything else.

"We are literally the last house on the street that (they) could stay at the (same schools)," she said.

The Richards received additional help from the community, especially from their church, the Redmond Assembly of God, whose members provided meals for them throughout Jason's hospital stay and even held a prayer service for Jason at Children's.

Jason also had friends from school visit him during his stay. One friend actually visited on a weekly basis and the two played video games together — one of Jason's favorite activities.

FAMILY REUNIONS

Although he is no stranger to the hospital — to the point that staff will go out of their way to set up a video game consul in his room with some of his favorite games — Jason is blunt about his stay.

"There are no good parts," he said, adding that spending so much time there was scary at times.

Jason, who turns 13 on Monday, came home in November and everyone is happy. "Welcome home" signs and drawings are posted on the Richards' front door as well as Jason's bedroom door.

"It's a big relief," Colin said. "We're overjoyed that he's home."

Colin added that while Jason is still on an oxygen machine, having the whole family together under one roof has removed at least one stress factor.

Jason is also happy to be home, saying "seeing (his) family" has been the best part. Through his fears and difficulties at the hospital, he said there is one thing that helped him deal with everything.

"It was God that got me through…in every way," Jason said.

In addition to bringing Jason home, the Richards also received contact from Jason's donor's family about a month ago through the transplant team.

Janet said they told the team — which acts as the middleman between the families — that they were open to meeting with the donor family if the other family was open, as well. She said they received a written letter that was signed by everyone in the donor's family and the Richards are in the process of writing their response. Janet said they are going to start with a written contact at first before considering a face-to-face meeting due to the difficult situation of having one child die to save another.

"It's just a lot of things to think about," Janet said. "We want to share him with that family because he has their child's heart."

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