Peyton West’s parents would never have thought that his first day of school this year was going to be his last.
The 13-year-old had survived a heart transplant in March and spent the past five months living a full and fun life, said his father, Corey West. He developed a passion for food, especially Mexican. Soccer became his favorite sport, and he would watch FC Cincinnati professional games with his dad. It wasn’t a coincidence that it had been his heart donor, Derek’s, favorite sport, too.
“Peyton thought, ‘hey, if Derek loved soccer, then I love soccer,’ ” West said.
Peyton woke up on Thursday excited for his first day of eighth grade in Goshen, Ohio. He was being goofy, West said, and the family took a photo of him smiling on their front porch. But 15 minutes later, when older brother Ethan dropped him off at school, everything changed.
He told Ethan he didn’t feel well and then collapsed, West said. Ethan carried him to the school nurse’s office. An ambulance rushed the boy to the hospital before his mother, Melissa, joined them.
The medics told Melissa West that they were quick to leave because Peyton’s heart had stopped and it was a sight that no mother should see, West said.
Doctors tried for 2½ hours to revive him, but Peyton died at the hospital.
Half of a heart
Peyton was born November 6, 2003, with hypoplastic left heart syndrome.
“Basically, you’re born missing the left side of the heart,” said Dr. Emile Bacha, chief officer of cardiac surgery at Columbia University Medical Center. “Instead of having two ventricles, you only have one ventricle.”
Ventricles are the two chambers in the heart that pump blood throughout the body. The condition requires three open-heart surgeries to allow the right ventricle to function on its own normally, Bacha said.
Peyton had his third surgery at age 5, West said, and nearly died. He sustained brain damage and had to relearn how to walk and talk. But over the next few years, he kept up his spirits.
“He was so positive and so happy, and even when he was sick, someone would walk in, and he’d just smile. He’d just light up a room with his smile,” West said.
Peyton’s story made the news in 2013 when he decided to go on the field and score his first 65-yard touchdown for his football team. Since he couldn’t fully participate in sports, he helped coach the basketball team at school and lived vicariously through his brothers’ football experiences, West said.
In January, the doctors told Peyton’s parents that his heart was failing and that he was “teetering on the edge,” West said. He needed a heart transplant. On March 9, a heart became available, and Peyton went in for transplant surgery at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital that afternoon.
Over the next few months, he began to feel better, according to West.
What went wrong?
Peyton’s family and doctors are still unsure what went wrong with his heart last week.
The Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Heart Failure and Transplant Program, where Peyton was treated during his transplant and final moments, said it could not comment on the case.
Bacha said that the course of Peyton’s death was unusual for someone in his situation and that there would typically be a much longer period of not feeling well, allowing more time for medical intervention.
“The rapidity of his demise is surprising, really surprising,” said Bacha, who had not treated Peyton or seen his medical records.
It could be that his body was rejecting the new organ, which manifested in an abnormal heart rhythm. Or any number of other things may have occurred, he said, like a strange infection.
An autopsy was performed Friday, and the results, which Peyton’s parents hope will shed some light on the case, are pending.
The Wests agreed to donate his body parts in hopes of saving someone else’s life.
“When they asked the question, ‘Do you want him to donate?’ I looked at the doctor, and part of me just for a brief second wanted to say no, because the boy had been through four … surgeries, so many struggles,” his father said. “But obviously, it didn’t take another half-second to say ‘absolutely,’ because organ donation is what saved Peyton’s life and was able to give him the five months of full, fun life.”
Visitation for Peyton is Tuesday at Goshen High School. His funeral service is scheduled for Wednesday at Eastside Christian Church in Milford, Ohio.
The family of Derek Cisneros, Peyton’s heart donor, will also be in attendance, West said. They love Peyton and call him their son, and Peyton loved them, too.
“He always said, ‘I wish I could have met Derek,’ and you know, now he’s in heaven playing soccer and football with Derek,” West said.