Jayden Booker is “all boy,” says his mother, Shereka Softley. His three loves? Spider-Man, basketball and laser tag.
“He’s so active. When I tell people he’s had a heart transplant, they are surprised. You just can’t tell by looking at him today,” Shereka said.
At 4 months old, doctors thought Jayden was suffering from pneumonia, but a routine follow-up revealed it was heart failure. He was diagnosed with restrictive cardiomyopathy, a rare form of heart muscle disease, after traveling to Birmingham to see pediatric cardiologist F. Bennett Pearce, M.D., at Children’s of Alabama. “At first doctors thought we had some options besides a heart transplant, but rather soon they realized that he really needed a transplant,” Shereka said.
Yet before that could happen, pressure had to be relieved on his lungs first. “If they were to do the heart transplant before that pressure was relieved, the transplant wouldn’t work,” Shereka said. “Thankfully, we had a wonderful team of doctors doing everything they could to help him.”
That team included physicians from both the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) and Children’s as the two institutions partnered to relieve the pressure in Jayden’s lungs by implanting a Berlin Heart, an external heart pump that relieved the pressure. It was the very first time the procedure had been performed at Children’s instead of UAB. “It worked exactly like they told us it would,” Shereka said. “They got the pressure down, which meant Jayden got to go on the transplantation list.”
Just a few weeks after James Kirklin, M.D., former director of the UAB Division of Cardiothoracic Surgery at Children’s, implanted the Berlin Heart, Shereka was informed there was a match. That very same day, Jayden got a new heart. “I didn’t think it would happen so quickly,” she said. “When we saw that it was certain, my emotions were obviously all over the place. I was shocked and overjoyed, but also sad because I knew that my child getting a new heart was a very different scenario for another family. It was a moment with very mixed emotions.”
After a long transplant surgery, Jayden’s journey was finally complete. Transplantation was a success. “The first thing I noticed when I saw him was that his little feet were so red,” Shereka says. “That meant the blood was pumping through his body really well, and before it was never like that. It’s silly, but the transplant was so noticeable in little ways.”
Today, Jayden is back to being a playful little boy who loves all things sports and superheroes. He’s even preparing for an upcoming trip to Walt Disney World—all things that at one time Shereka never would have thought possible.
“Saying that this experience has been overwhelming is an understatement,” Shereka said. “I’m grateful that the staff at Children’s has been so willing to help through it all. From everyone at the hospital while we were there to the time we spent at the Ronald McDonald House, everyone has been amazing. They always put everything out on the table for me to know and understand and it was obvious that they cared about saving Jayden’s life. They truly care.”