A heartwarming welcome

Lynbrook High School junior returns to class after transplant

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A viral infection that led to congestive heart failure nearly killed Aidan Slattery in 2003, when he was just 6 weeks old, but he survived. Earlier this year, however, the 16-year-old’s heart began to fail him again, and this time Slattery, a Lynbrook High School junior, needed a transplant, which he underwent in late June.

On Oct. 15, Slattery received a surprise welcome on his first day back at school. As he pulled up to Lynbrook High in a white Tesla SUV, his fellow students waved balloons and placards with supportive messages as the school marching band blasted “The Hey Song” and the cheerleading and kickline squads waved pom-poms. Lynbrook police cordoned off Union Avenue in front the school for the festivities.

“It was great and it was unexpected,” Slattery said. “It was great to see how much support I had, and I was very surprised at how many people cared. It was nice to see everyone again.”

Aidan’s heart failed suddenly when he was an infant. His parents, Todd and Christine, noticed he was turning blue and rushed him to the Schneider’s Children’s Hospital, now known as Cohen Children’s Hospital, where doctors determined that he was suffering from congestive heart failure, with fluid collecting in his lungs.

“They ripped him from our hands in the emergency room and took life-saving measures,” Todd Slattery recalled. “That was a real wake-up call.”

Surgeons saved Aidan’s life, but he was diagnosed with dilated cardiomyothopy, or an enlarged heart. When he was 18 months old, tests showed that his heart function had improved to about 85 to 90 percent. With his health trending up, Aidan began visiting the heart failure team at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia twice a year. Otherwise, he lived a normal life.

He excelled as an ice and roller hockey goalie. Last April, however, he began to feel irritable, and his energy plummeted. In May, tests at Children’s Hospital determined that his heart function had dropped to 50 percent of normal.

Aidan underwent a series of surgeries at the Philadelphia hospital. In the first, on May 20, a ventricular assisting device, or pump, was sewn into a heart ventricle to help distribute blood throughout the body. He remained in the hospital for about a month after the surgery, and his family rented an apartment in Philadelphia for him to recover in and undergo rehabilitation.

Then Aidan had to wait for a donor on the heart transplant list, which, he was told, could take up to a year, but on June 28 — five weeks after the pump was implanted — the Slatterys received the call they had been waiting for: Aidan had a match.

“I was excited for it, but I was nervous because of all the risks with having surgery done,” he recounted. “But I think a lot of people were excited for me to get a whole new heart.”

Aidan underwent a six-hour transplant on June 29, one day after a donor match was found. He remained in the hospital for two weeks, and a month later, the Slatterys returned to New York. The biggest fear after surgery, Todd said, was that Aidan’s body would reject the new heart. But with each passing day, he said, his son grew stronger, thanks to a strict diet and rehab regimen and medication that suppressed his immune system to prevent rejection. “I was shocked, thankful and nervous,” his father said.

On Sept. 29, three months after the surgery, doctors cleared Aidan to return to school. On Oct. 15, that day finally came.

“When we learned that Aidan was coming back to school, knowing what he and his entire family had gone through, it was inspiring,” Principal Joseph Rainis said. “And so I said to myself, wouldn’t it be great if we had the whole building outside to welcome him back? It’s just a nice way to welcome a wonderful young man back into the family.”

Aidan will have to make up a series tests over the next six months to remain on track for graduation. He began working with academic tutors whom the school provided. Todd Slattery said he was proud of how his son handled it all, and of his daughter, Aidan’s older sister, Kirstin, who remained in New York with family while her parents and brother were in Philadelphia, graduating from Lynbrook High in June.

Aidan said that life has returned to normal now that he’s back in school, and he was excited to rejoin the school’s golf team.

His father emphasized the importance of being a donor. “We want to redirect some of this attention we’ve been getting to the donor who made this possible,” he said. “It’s anonymous, and we want to acknowledge the selfless and wonderful act of the donor, and we want to draw more attention to the organ and tissue donation process and how important it is.”

Aidan agreed. Organ donation, he said, “saves lives, and I really thank whoever my donor is and their family. I know it’s not a good thing to undergo, but this process is very important. I’m grateful to everyone who has been supporting me and everyone who helped me get through it.”

To learn more about becoming a donor, or to register, visit https://registerme.org/