Changed in a heartbeat: Lives of two families intertwined around tragedy, transplant
SALT LAKE CITY — Twenty-three years ago, Elisabeth Brazell was walking the halls of Intermountain Primary Children’s Hospital trying to process the loss of her 8 year-old son Christopher, when she saw two tiny feet hanging out of a blanket in the pediatric intensive care unit.
After asking a nurse what was wrong with the little patient, she was told the 4-year-old boy by the name of Jon Hochstein was waiting for a heart donor. His condition, dilated cardiomyopathy, was so severe, he was placed on life support.
“In the moment, you’re just overwhelmed by the loss of your brother and son,” said Christopher’s sister, April Hough, during a press conference on Wednesday. “But once my mom saw Jon, she thought if Christopher’s death could help someone else, we should do it.”
Christopher was hit by a speeding truck while walking in a school zone in Wendover. His injuries were too numerous and severe for him to survive. His mother initially decided she didn’t want to donate his organs, but seeing Jon changed her mind. The family donated his heart to Jon and his liver and kidneys to other children in need of a transplant.
Because his heart was swelling in his chest cavity, it just happened to create enough space to allow Christopher’s heart to fit perfectly.
“Unlike adults, kids normally have to get an organ from someone who’s about the same age and size they are,” said Rose Linsler, a nurse practitioner who was Jon’s bedside nurse. “After watching everything Jon had been through, we just needed this one last thing to work. He was just this adorable, curly headed little boy who lived in the pediatric ICU and everyone loved and adored him.”
After receiving Christopher’s heart, Hochstein made a full recovery. However, in 2003, he was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, a cancer which affected his immune system. After a year of treatment, his body began rejecting his heart. Doctors quickly administered new immunosuppressive drugs that helped him overcome the setback.
Today, Hochstein, 27, is a Harvard Medical School graduate and is just entering his residency at Boston Children’s Hospital. He plans to specialize in cardiac transplant care.
“I tell people I’ve wanted to be a doctor since I was 4 because of the experience at Primary Children’s Hospital,” Hochstein said. “I didn’t understand anything about what the doctors were doing. I just knew I wanted to grow up and help people like they helped me.”
Two years ago, Hochstein and his family were connected to Christopher’s family for the first time — and they got to listen to his heartbeat.
“It was like running home from the playground all over again,” Hough said. “Losing Christopher was earth shattering, but meeting Jon and his family was incredibly life changing. I don’t think I’ve ever met such a humble person in all of my life. I take comfort in knowing Christopher’s legacy will live on through Jon, who will help save other kids.”