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Champion at Heart, From Heart Failure to 5k.

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By Melissa McQueen.

Most of Samuel’s life he felt active and healthy. He enjoyed participating in martial arts and several other sports. In 2018, when things seemed off, he didn’t suspect it was anything more than a cold.

On February 7th he woke up to a startling surprise. The left side of his face was drooping, and his speech was slurred. He could not move the left side of his body at all. When his mother saw what was happening, she knew something was terribly wrong and called 911. When he got to the hospital, they ran 2 CAT Scans and they told him he was having a stroke.

His physicians decided to perform an embolectomy, which is when they went through his arm to his brain to suction out the blood clot. When he woke, he was able to move his left side again and he felt a great relief. The doctors then explained that they looked a little further into his situation, being that having a stroke at 16 is rare, and they found that he had a serious heart condition. They then sent him to Le Bonheur Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee because they were better equipped to handle Sam’s heart condition. When he got there, he was immediately moved to the CVICU and the cardiologists explained to him that he had cardiomyopathy (enlarged heart). Cardiomyopathy is a disease of the heart muscle leading to decreased function. It was pumping so inefficiently that fluid was starting to build up in his lungs. They suspect the cardiomyopathy in place since birth and built over a lifetime to cause the stroke.

Two days later, things went from bad to worse. His short-term memory was beginning to fail, and his mother and staff would have to tell him information repeatedly. His heart rate was increasingly going up and he was constantly nauseous. When his heart rate reached a max of 238 BPM (beats per minute) he was shocked with the defibrillator three time to help reset his heart. He remembers being shocked the third time and jolting forward with a vision of a room full of doctors. One doctor was desperately asking him to wake up on the final shock. After this the whole room getting darker and then going back to sleep, but in reality, his heart had actually stopped. He was then placed on an emergency bypass called ECMO (extra corporeal membrane oxygenation) to get his heart and lungs to work again. When stabilized, his medical team were able to put an LVAD (Left Ventricular Assist Device) in to help assist his heart pump normally again. His physicians advised the best treatment going forward being a heart transplant and that this LVAD would help bridge him to heart transplant.

He came from a very strong church community. When he needed help, his mom went to church and asked her congregation to pray for her son. Thankfully, he didn’t have to wait long. February 16, 2018 he got the call and received his gift of life.

Some of his favorite moment’s inpatient were with his physical therapist. His therapists knew he was an athlete and wanted to get him back to that condition again. Which they did eventually accomplish. His most exciting moment post-transplant was in September when he ran a 5k with his OT and PT and their spouses and kids. He ran 3 5ks in the first-year post transplant Samuel still runs today and competes in 5k’s.

His proudest achievement is going to college. After being homeschooled his entire school career he was unsure if he could do it. But after getting his heart, he felt a renewed sense of purpose and decided to take his ACTs and did very well. He then applied and was accepted into the University of Memphis. His focus is to go to law school, and he is starting with his philosophy degree. Samuel’s best piece of advice for those waiting, get a support group and lean on your family to help you during this very difficult time. Never hide how you are feeling. Find as many people to talk to as you can to help you feel even a little bit normal. A support group that will stay with you and fight you the whole way is very important.

Thank you, Samuel, for being an incredible inspiration to so many!!

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