One June morning, Joseph Mansaray woke up and found it difficult to breathe. His father, Peter, took him to the hospital where a chest x-ray revealed he had an enlarged heart. His doctor explained to him that the small, local hospital would not be able to help and had Joseph and his father transferred in an ambulance to another where he was admitted and spent 12 days in the ICU.
After several more tests, doctors there also felt there was nothing they could do to help Joseph. He and his father were transferred again, this time by helicopter, to a world renowned hospital in Philadelphia. Here, doctors were able to diagnose Joseph with cardiomyopathy, a disease of the heart muscle which makes it difficult for the organ to pump blood, and told him that he may need a transplant. Joseph’s mother, Mary, was also recently diagnosed with cardiomyopathy and was just beginning her transplant journey.
Doctors gave Joseph a left ventricular assist device, or an L-VAD, to help pump blood throughout his body, hoping it would strengthen his heart enough to later be removed. After surgery, Joseph was discharged to the Howie’s House where he and his father stayed during his recovery. His mother remained at home with his other siblings. A few weeks later, after three months in three different hospitals, Joseph and his father were able to join them. Life, however, wasn’t the same—Joseph couldn’t go to school, run, or play soccer.
That fall, Joseph returned to Philadelphia for a follow-up appointment where doctors found the L-VAD had not worked like they had hoped. Joseph’s heart was not healing and the next course of treatment was a heart transplant. Around this time, Mary had received her precious gift of life, but unfortunately, suffered major complications. She passed away in November 2015.
“Watching my mom’s transplant and what happened to her after was so hard for me. I was so sad that my mom had passed and also so scared that this was going to happen to me,” Joseph says.
Thankfully, his dad was there to support him.
“[Joseph] never complained. And as a dad and a caregiver, watching my son go through what he went through and handle it with such grace. It helped me. It really helped me,” Peter says.
In February 2016, Joseph received “the call” and was gifted a new heart thanks to a charitable act by a selfless donor. His recovery went smoothly, and 10 days after his surgery, he was discharged to the Howie’s House with his father once more.
“The House made life easier for me and my family during this time and I am very grateful for that,” Joseph says.
After a few more weeks, Joseph was able to return home. He was able to play soccer during his senior year of high school. Now he also plays in college.
“I thank everyone at the Howie’s House for all the good work they do every day and all that they have done for my family,” Joseph says. “They helped us through some of the hardest times in our lives, giving us somewhere to sleep, connecting us to other transplant families and donor families, and helping us when life was falling apart.”
“When the helicopter landed at the hospital in Philadelphia, I was alone with my son,” Peter explains. “I was afraid, worried, confused…but by the time we left [the Howie’s House], I left with a whole family.”
Peter is just one of the many strong husbands and fathers who stay at the Howie’s House. This Father’s Day, you can give them one less thing to worry about so they can focus on supporting their families and each other through such difficult times. Please consider making a gift to help support the fathers and sons like Peter and Joseph undergoing the transplant journey, or in honor of an important male figure in your life.
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