At just 18 years old, Cody Halfpenny has encountered more adversity in his young life than most people endure in a lifetime. Born with a congenital heart defect, Cody underwent four open heart surgeries before the age of two. For the next 11 years, Cody’s health remained stabled until he needed yet another heart surgery. This turned out to be the start of a new dramatic chapter in the young Abbotsford boy’s life. Immediately following surgery, it became apparent that his heart was very sick, no longer able to beat on its own. Doctors implanted an artificial heart pump, an LVAD, to keep Cody alive. During this time, he suffered numerous strokes, impacting his ability to walk and talk. Now the only hope of survival was a heart transplant.
For an agonizing 995 days, Cody was unable to attend school or venture too far from home. The wait was very hard on him and his family, but finally in July 2016, Cody received the gift of a new heart. Now he could finally start living his life again and planning for his future.
There have been many challenges, as Cody explains, “It is not easy to be away from your friends and school for over 3 years and expect to pick up where you left off. I have had to make new friends and that has not been easy. I have to undergo a lot of therapies including physiotherapy, occupational therapy, and speech therapy.” Despite it all, he never lost his sense of humor and optimism. He has a sparkle in eye and a smile on his face when he talks about his upcoming prom, his latest video game or recent ATV adventure. He enjoys spending summers at his family’s cabin and riding his Seadoo. Being a regular teenager is all that Cody really wants in life.
Unfortunately, that hasn’t been simple. Almost all transplant patients encounter setbacks and challenges post transplant because of the harsh medication, rejection and compromised organ function. This has been a tough reality for Cody, “I would like people to know that a transplant is not a cure. I have simply traded one disease for the next. I have numerous hospital appointments and bloodwork. Since my immune system is supressed any little thing can put me in the hospital. This year I got the flu and ended up in the hospital for over a week.”
It turns out the flu virus attacked his new heart and caused permanent damage. Right now, he is in hospital battling rejection. “This means I am missing school once again and now I am undergoing various treatments that are very hard on my body, one of them being chemotherapy.”
He knows there is a lot of exciting research taking place right now, and he’s hoping some of that work will mean an end to rejection, “I wish that recipients didn’t have to take anti-rejection drugs because these are very hard on other organs in your body. Perhaps there could be some way that my own body wouldn’t think my new heart was foreign. I have heard a lot about stem cell injections and maybe that could help in the future.”
This remarkable teenager still manages to smile, and he dreams of a different future for transplant patients where hearts, and other organs, can be grown in a lab using the recipient’s own DNA. There would be no waiting list and no one would die waiting for a transplant. He knows research will get there eventually.
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