By Cheril Vernon

Messenger Copy Editor

HOUSTON – A Crockett couple’s prayers were answered when their 5-month-old son successfully received a heart transplant on Tuesday, Oct. 3 at Texas Children’s Hospital in Houston.

Baby Matthew, son of Stephen and Megan Easley of Crockett, underwent the nine-hour surgery around midnight.

“They (hospital staff) came around 3 or 3:30 p.m. yesterday afternoon and said ‘it’s happening. My wife Megan said ‘What’s happening?’ They drew a little heart with two index fingers,” Stephen Easley told the Messenger Tuesday, Oct. 3, explaining how the hospital staff informed them their infant son would be receiving a heart transplant.

Matthew was born on May 1 at the Houston hospital and was quickly sent to the neonatal intensive care unit for the first two weeks of his life. While in neonatal ICU, Matthew was diagnosed with a rare heart disease, Hypoplastic Right Heart Syndrome with Pulmonary Atresia and Ticuspid Stenosis.

“HRHS is a rare form of heart disease in which the right ventricle, tricuspid and pulmonary valves of the heart are underdeveloped, leading to a right-to-left shunting (or pushing) of the blood through the inter-atrial septal defect,” according to a Miracle for Matthew press release. “Pulmonary atresia is a birth defect of the pulmonary valve, which regulates blood flow from the right ventricle (lower-right chamber of the heart) to the main pulmonary artery (the blood vessel that carries blood from the heart to the lungs). Pulmonary atresia is when the aforementioned valve did not form at all and no blood can go from the heart to the lungs.”

Since his birth, Matthew has been subjected to daily health-monitoring tests, been confined to a ventilator to assist his breathing and has had several surgeries performed on him, including his first open heart surgery at 12 days old, to place a shunt from his lungs to his heart to allow for oxygen flow.

Matthew has been on the heart transplant waiting list since the day he was born, and on May 23 was moved to the priority spot on the list.

“I believe it was around 4:30 a.m. (Tuesday, Oct. 3) we got a message saying they were leaving the donor hospital. Around 5 a.m. they said the heart was here. Right before six the first vessel was being sewed in and within 45 minutes later, the heart transplant was complete,” Stephen Easley said.

At 5:57 a.m. Tuesday, Oct. 3, Matthew’s new heart took its first beat.

“Things seem to be going good so far. His stats are a little low, but they are equalizing back out,” Stephen Easley told The Messenger around 2:45 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 3.

More than anything, the Easleys are thankful for their blessings, but the few hours before the surgery and waiting for his recovery were tough.

“We were happy, but anxious. We had mixed emotions. It was scary at first, thinking about them taking a whole heart out and putting a whole new heart in. But the day finally came that we have been praying for,” Stephen Easley said. “We have been praying for the donor family for their loss. We are going to keep them in our prayers daily. They have a long road ahead of them in their grieving process.”

Matthew’s dad said as soon as they are officially allowed to make contact with the donor family, they plan to do so, even if that is a year or more from now.

“We want to offer some closure for them, that their child’s heart went to a good place,” Stephen Easley said.

Matthew will spend a few more weeks in Texas Children’s Hospital’s Cardiovascular Intensive Care Unit before moving to a “step-down” unit at the hospital.

“There they will teach us the medicine and get us ready to go home,” Stephen Easley said.

Currently, Matthew weighs about 17 pounds.

“He’s currently on a ventilator and he’s got a couple of drain things coming out of him. He’s on medication, mostly sedation type medicine and a immuno-suppressant heart medicine. He has a temporary pacemaker module, but it’s on the outside. He has two central lines – a PICC line and one going through his neck. He has an arterial line in his left arm,” his dad explained.

At first their temporary home – once Matthew is released from the hospital – will have to be in Houston – because as a transplant patient, Matthew has to stay close for three months.

“At the three-month mark, we will be able to come home to Crockett,” Stephen Easley said.

Since the day he was born, Matthew has been at the hospital.

“He hasn’t seen outside except through the window. This is the final part of this journey, but the journey is going to keep going because of his medication and doctor visits. This is just beginning,” Stephen Easley said. “When we are able to take him home, it’s going to be a true blessing because we will be able to do a little bit more with him and love on him like we’ve wanted to for a long time. We have held him and given him kisses, but it would be nice to do that without all of the wires connected to him or the central IV line in his leg. That’s been holding us back, but at some point we will be free from all that.”

The Easleys say the doctors are pleased with Matthew’s progress throughout the last few months and after the transplant.

“They gave him the very minimum of medicines that they give after heart transplants and he’s doing fine. Slowly, they will wean him off and try to get him off the ventilator. It’s going to be a slow process for a week or so, but it will come to pass soon,” Stephen Easley said.

Besides having to wait for a heart transplant, Matthew has been a normal baby.

“Let’s just say he’s just like his daddy. Lots of smiles. Very playful. When he gets fussy we play him music from a friend of ours and it quiets him down,” Stephen Easley said.

Originally, the couple stayed in a camper in an RV park in Houston after their son was born, so they could be closer to hospital. But for the past few months, the couple have been staying with friends in Houston.

“They have a ranch in Houston County, but they allowed us to stay in their garage apartment here in Houston during this time. We are very grateful to them helping us with living arrangements,” Stephen Easley said.

The Easleys are especially grateful to everyone who helped support and pray for them during the last five months since Matthew has been born.

“My wife and I would like to say thank you for the continued prayers. The Houston County community has shown how big of hearts they have and how much they really care about their neighbors. We are very grateful and proud to call Houston County home,” Stephen Easley said. “Thank you to everyone that has helped us and prayed for our family.”

To see additional photos and to keep up with Matthew’s progress, visit the Miracle for Matthew Facebook page.