Huff receives ‘gift of life’ from heart transplant

Forty two days had come and gone for Matt Huff as he had been in the hospital fighting for his life. The day finally came where he realized the heart for which he had waited so long likely wasn’t coming. So he sat on the edge of this bed, suitcases packed, and accepted the fact that he didn’t have much longer to live.

Then the phone rang.

“When you sit in a hospital for 42 days straight, things you don’t want to be thinking about begin to run through your mind,” said Huff, weeks after transplant surgery gave him a new lease on life. “I was preparing for the worst. Not being able to go anywhere starts to get frustrating and scary, because you start to think that this is going to be your life for as long as you have left to  live.”

As Huff’s hospital stay dragged into its second month, the thought of his isolation and possible death was one that continued to haunt him.

“I couldn’t do anything,” said Huff.” I felt trapped in there with nowhere to go and only my thoughts on what was about to come. I didn’t know for sure, but I knew I had to brace myself for the worst.”

For 42 days, Huff sat in the hospital with frequent visitors from classmates as well as former teachers from Southmoreland High School, from which he had graduated just a few months before. While having visitors helped take Huff’s mind off of things for a small amount of time, nothing could prevent the feelings of loneliness and isolation he felt at night when he was alone in his hospital room enveloped in the darkness, much like how he had felt for the past 18 years.

Today, Huff is facing an obstacle of cellular rejection taking place in the transplanted heart. Doctors have scheduled a biopsy for Dec. 1 to get a better idea of what may be going on with the rest of the heart. But he’s alive, and for that he is grateful.

“I believe things are happening for a reason,” Huff said from home. “No matter what, I’m going to remain positive.”

Aside from the thought of going through another biopsy, Huff faces the thought of returning to the hospital for new medications as well as new treatments and that there is a possibility of rejection or infection. Despite this, Huff remains in high spirits and continues the activities he was participating in such as “hanging out” with his friends.

The day Huff was born he was diagnosed with Hypo Plastic Left Heart Syndrome, which is when the left side of the heart fails to pump blood efficiently, which then prevents your body from getting enough oxygen-rich blood.

When Huff was just 6 days old, doctors and nurses started a series of surgeries called the Norwood procedures that would allow for the slowdown of what would soon become heart failure. His first procedure required the aorta and pulmonary artery to be sewn together and for a shunt to be placed in the heart in order to “lessen the load” on the lungs. This allows for the blood to travel to the lungs under proper pressure allowing the heart to strengthen and grown.

The second procedure was taken place at 9 months old and is done usually when the baby’s SAT’s begin to go too low for the baby to continue to grow. After the surgery, the baby will begin to go back to a normal color because the SAT’s will increase.

The last procedure was done at 4 years old and takes the blood from the lower part of the body and and directs it to the pulmonary arteries. A baffle is placed in the right atrium so that the blood does not mix with the blood in the left side of the heart. When this is completed, no mixed circulation of blood will occur.

Though Huff was categorized as someone who may be “different” from his classmates, he never let that stand in the way of his aspirations.

“I’ve never let any of these issues and surgeries set me back,” Huff said. “I’m no different from anybody else; my heart just is.”

While growing up, Huff still had to maintain thorough checkups to make sure things were going smooth and his health wasn’t deteriorating.

“When you’re 6 days old and already getting surgeries, this many checkups almost becomes a routine thing ,” said Huff.” I’ve never been discouraged by them. I go in with high spirits and expecting positive feedback.”

However, the last checkup had left Huff  being admitted to the hospital after the doctors had discovered he was going into heart failure.

“I was scared and I was worried, but I needed to stay strong for myself and my family,” said Huff.

After weeks of being in the hospital waiting for a transplant, Huff got a call early one morning with the news that they had finally found a heart that matched.

“The doctors came in and woke me up and asked me if I wanted the heart,” Huff said. “Of course I said ‘yes’ and called my mom to tell her the news. They got down to the hospital as fast as they could, and we waited.”

For Huff, the day of the transplant surgery – Sept. 14 – finally came, seeming like it took forever, but he finally got the healthy heart he had always hoped for. As he was in surgery, close friends stood by waiting for the results.

“I kept my phone close to me all day waiting to hear an update about how Matt was and how the surgery went,” said Mrs. Kim Kelley, Huff’s former math teacher who, along with her husband Mark, traveled Childrens Hospital in Pittsburgh routinely to visit Huff.

“I was supporting him the best I could through all of this,” Mrs. Kelley said. “I’m glad he got the heart that he has deserved for so long.”

After approximately a 5-hour surgery, Huff was in the recovery room about to take on what was thought to be a long agonizing recovery time. For him, however, it was only about two weeks after surgery that he was released from the hospital.

“I bounced back a lot quicker than they thought I was going to,” said Huff. “I kept motivating myself to get better so I can get back to being myself again.”

As time progressed, Huff began to do things that were difficult for him before the heart transplant.

“I can walk a lot farther, and I don’t get tired out as fast like I used to,” Huff said. “It’s crazy to be able to feel the difference this made for me. I still have good and bad days, but I’m excited to see what is to come for me in the future.”

Long time friend Tommy Pisula had encouraging words to say about Huff and the future that is to come for him.

“Matt’s shown me that a real ‘trooper’ can overcome anything,” said Pisula, a star athlete currently playing basketball at St. Francis University in Loretto.  “You can take all of my accomplishments and achievements through my life, but they come nowhere close to how far Matt has come and what he’s overcome today. He motivates me every day to be as resilient as him.”

As time progresses, Huff hopes to continuing a steady a recovery.

“I want to be the best version of myself that I can be now that I have a healthy heart,” said Huff.” In order to do that, I just have to stay positive and do as I’m told, and that’s what I plan on doing.”

About Alexei Belzer
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