Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Family Selects Heart Recipient, Raises Issues

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Family Selects Heart Recipient, Raises Issues

Article excerpt

Had 16-year-old Aaron Sandlin grown up in any area besides St. Joseph, Mo., he might still be struggling to breathe with his barely beating heart, medical experts say.

But Stefan Kalamon, 21, also from the St. Joseph area, died in a car accident Thursday night. Stefan's mother, Tamela, told doctors her son would have wanted the boy from their town to have a healthy heart.

So Tamela Kalamon and her husband, Steven, allowed doctors to use Stefan's heart in a transplant. By 6:30 a.m. Sunday, after an eight-hour operation in St. Louis, Stefan's heart was beating in Aaron's chest.

The Kalamons approached health care workers about donating Stefan's heart to Aaron, whom they had read about in the newspaper, said Carman Koch, a transplant nurse and spokeswoman for Midwest Organ Bank, an organ-procurement group.

Workers told them Stefan's heart might not match. It did. Stefan and Aaron also both had Type O blood.

"For a family to be that gracious, it's the best gift anybody could give," Aaron's father, Jim Sandlin, told the St. Joseph News-Press. "It's very unselfish, very sweet of them. But they're going through a funeral. It's a sad-glad emotional experience all mixed up in one."

Four other Missouri teen-agers - two in more critical conditions, one who has waited four times longer than Aaron - wait for hearts at St. Louis Children's Hospital. It is a leading center for pediatric organ transplants.

Cases in which donor families handpick recipients are rare, and medical experts raised questions about the case. It's also rare when organs match perfectly in designated donations - about 10 times a year in Missouri.

"At first I felt funny performing the transplant," said Dr. Eric Mendeloff, surgeon at Children's. Aaron flew here from Kansas City Sa turday afternoon. "But he could have died at any moment. A family wanted him to live. I have helped him to live. …

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