Roman Christopher might adopt 7 as his lucky number.
He was born October 2011 with a major heart defect, of which his parents Brooke and Jaime were unaware. On his third day of life everything changed. He suddenly stopped feeding and became irritable.
Doctors sent the youngster to Nationwide Children’s Hospital, where he was diagnosed with Hypoplastic Left Heart Syndrome, meaning the left side of his heart never developed.
Roman was 7 days old when he had his first open heart surgery, but he was not strong enough to sustain the other two that he needed.
“A transplant was his only chance of survival,” Brooke said. “He had a stroke, multiple infections and complications. He couldn’t feed due to his heart not being able to pump enough oxygen to his intestines.”
On May 6, 2012, when Roman was 7 months old, his family received the call that a heart was available. The next day, May 7, Roman had a fully-functioning four-chambered heart.
“The procedure took 12 hours. They took Roman in at midnight so we were the only ones in the waiting room at Children’s,” she said. “We were excited, but it hits you that another family is grieving.”
Brooke said support from family, friends and hospital staff helped a great deal.
“They came out after the surgery and told us he had a perfect heart,” she said.
She noticed immediate changes in her child’s appearance.
“He had always had a shade of blue due to not getting enough oxygen. Now he was pink; he had pink fingers and pink toes,” Brooke said. “And he was moving around a lot more. Really active.”
The family celebrated his five-year transplant anniversary with a party at Blue Limestone Park on May 7.
“We wanted to celebrate Roman and his donor. Five years is a huge milestone for a heart transplant patient,” Brooke said.
The family doesn’t know the donor, only that the heart came from Virginia.
Roman is “a huge Cavaliers and Browns fan and loves all sports.” He also has a love for other children going through similar circumstances.
“He collected toys and other things for pediatric patients in the hospital,” she said.
The family refers to the anonymous heart donor as Rainbow.
“The day we got the call about the transplant there was a rainbow in the sky. We felt like that was a signal … our storm was over,” Brooke recalled.
Today, Roman remains “very, very active,” playing T-ball, swimming and attending preschool. The only concern is a weakened immune system.
“We want to let him live and treat him like a normal child,” she said.
He competed in the Transplant Games of America last year and won a gold medal in the Youth Olympiad.
“He’s a normal 5-and-a 1/2-year-old. If you didn’t know his story you’d have no idea what he’s gone through,” she said.
“We’re so grateful that our child got a second chance at life.”
Editor Anthony Conchel can be reached at 740-413-0900.