News

12.28.2011

After Advanced Medical Care, an Athlete Goes Home for the Holidays

Viral cardiomyopathy, a disorder caused by a virus attacking and weakening the heart, changed Darius Redd’s life. The disease upended his promising football future and landed him in Holtz Children’s Hospital at the University of Miami/Jackson Memorial Medical Center, where his parents kept constant watch at his bedside for his entire six-month stay. To Darius, it seemed as if the medical whirlwind of multiple tests, surgery to implant a ventricular assist device to help his weakened heart, recovery, set-backs and rehabilitation would never end. He lost about 100 pounds. It seemed as if he would never go home again.

But the Clewiston, Florida teen wanted to be home for the holidays. At that special time of year, he yearned for the company of relatives and friends, and to be able to thank face-to-face the network of supporters who prayed for and supported him during his greatest challenge.

Last week, the Holtz medical team made sure he could achieve that goal.

“I’m so happy to be going home,” Darius said on December 22 at an emotional hospital news conference with his parents Eddie and Gloria Redd. His physicians, Si M. Pham, M.D., and Paolo G. Rusconi, M.D., both members of the Miami Transplant Institute, Henry K. Lee, D.O., a third-year physical medicine and rehabilitation resident, and heart-lung transplant nurse Teresa Bueno, ARNP, discussed Darius’ prognosis and progress.

“He was very sick when he came here, but he was able to survive the complications,” said Pham, professor of surgery and chief of the Division of Heart and Lung Transplantation. “He is a trooper. As you can see, he is ready to go home and celebrate Christmas while waiting for a heart and kidney transplant.”

Last summer, Darius was a peak-performing athlete, training at a football camp and working out at home with his father to help improve his game. For the 250-pound, 6-foot-3-inch Clewiston High School tight end, a future of football was nearly a foregone conclusion and colleges were already calling.

But one morning in June, he began throwing up. His family thought he was experiencing a post-training camp bout of exhaustion that would pass. A few days later, however, he felt worse. His religious family sought a special prayer for him at church, but during the ritual he began sweating profusely and had trouble breathing.

“The church was cold and he was popping out sweat,” his father recalled. “Later that evening that’s when he said, ‘Something is wrong. Get me to the emergency room.’”

Darius was rushed to Clewiston’s Hendry Regional Medical Center, which flew him to a Palm Beach County hospital. The next day doctors decided his acute condition would be best cared for by the experts at Holtz.

“We believe he was sick for at least three or four months before he went to the ER,” said Rusconi, associate professor of clinical pediatrics and medical director of Pediatric Heart Transplant and Cardiac Failure at Holtz. “Even when he was at the football camp his heart was already affected, but because of his strength it took quite some time before he crashed and the case was picked up.”

With the mechanical ventricular assist device circulating blood to replace the function of his failing heart, Darius will check in for evaluation every few weeks while he waits for a donor heart.

Darius is hopeful. He believes the setbacks, which include being bedridden for four months, a burning fever, time in the ICU, and undergoing dialysis, have made him stronger. Rehabilitation has made him stronger, too.

“He started walking with a walker and can walk more than 100 feet now,” Lee said. At the start of rehabilitation, Darius could manage only about five steps. “He continues to improve. It’s remarkable, it really is.”

Eddie Redd invoked God’s mercy over and over. And he gave thanks to the medical team for saving his son.

“Even with all the complications, they never gave up on Darius,” he said. “I told them God had a plan for his life and they assured me they were not going to give up.”

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