Blountville 7-year-old receives heart, double lung transplant in Philadelphia

Sue Guinn Legg • Dec 13, 2013 at 10:14 PM

Seven-year-old Weston Keeton of Blountville successfully underwent his long awaited heart and double lung transplant Thursday at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.

When he came out of surgery early Thursday afternoon, Weston’s mother, Julie Keeton, immediately announced the good news on the family’s “Praying for Weston” Facebook page: Weston’s three-surgeon transplant team was “over the moon” about how well the procedure had gone.

Thirty hours later, Julie Keeton reported in a phone interview from Weston’s room in the hospital’s pediatric intensive care unit that he was continuing to do well.

“He’s had a really good day,” she said Friday afternoon. While Weston was still being sedated for a plasma exchange needed to lower his antibodies and reduce the chance of organ rejection, he had opened his eyes and responded to his mother’s voice only minutes before the interview.

“He opened his eyes and we swabbed out his mouth a little with a little sponge. ... I asked him, ‘Do you like that, Weston?’ and he nodded his head a little.”

Doctors planned to wake Weston more Friday evening and immediately begin physical therapy.

“They want him up. They want him walking to let his heart pump and heal those little arteries,” Julie said.

The family’s wait for a perfect organ donor has been a long one and Weston’s new set of organs came in the nick of time.

With the exception of the few weeks at home this spring, he has been at the hospital in Philadelphia for the past two and a half years. His mother said his quality of life had decreased over the last seven months. He had been very sick prior to the surgery and his respirations had become so rapid the family was not certain he would be here at Christmas.

More frightening yet, his mother said, the same moment Weston was placed on the mechanical heart pump for surgery, his own heart, which had grown to the size of a small melon, stopped beating.

“One thing we want everyone to be mindful of is for Weston to live, someone else had to lose their child at Christmas and make that ultimate sacrifice for him to live,” Julie said.

The Keetons will not know who the donor family is for at least a year, but will write a letter to thank them and continue to ask everyone to pray for them.

“It is so humbling to know that another family, during their time of loss, could think of giving him the ultimate gift, especially at Christmas time,” Julie said.

It was at Christmas time two years ago, that Weston told Santa “he wanted a new heart and lungs and he wanted to grow up and be big.” After the donation of the organs and the progression of his organ exchange Thursday, Julie said she and Weston’s father, Adam Keeton, were calling it their own “Miracle on 34th Street” because the hospital is on 34th Street in Philadelphia.

“Now comes the hard part,” she said. “Weston will have a rocky few days as his new body adjusts to the new medications, blood flow, learning to breathe like a normal person again and regaining his strength.”

She thanked everyone at home for their thoughts and prayers for Weston and asked that they continue to pray for him in the days and weeks ahead. She also thanked the Johnson City-based Kari’s Heart Foundation for making her stay in Philadelphia with Weston possible, for many medical questions answered, for the foundation’s own team of prayer warriors and for other support they have given the family.

“For the short term,” Julie said, “Weston looks good. Everything has gone perfect and he looks fantastic.”

Updates on his progress can be found at the Praying or Weston Facebook page and at the Children’s Organ Transplant website, www.cotaforwestonk.com.

Donations to help the Keeton family with costs related to the transplant may be made to COTA and earmarked for “Weston K” by mail to the Children’s Organ Transplant Association, 2501 W. COTA Drive, Bloomington, IN 47403.

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