Heart of the matter: VU sophomore Barrett Younghans healthy, happy after transplant

2013-02-14T00:00:00Z 2013-02-15T00:00:05Z Heart of the matter: VU sophomore Barrett Younghans healthy, happy after transplantPhilip Potempa philip.potempa@nwi.com, (219) 852-4327 nwitimes.com

VALPARAISO | Barrett Younghans is celebrating a special anniversary this week.

Tuesday marked the one-year anniversary of Younghans receiving a heart transplant, just in time for Valentine's Day.

"It seems like something that happened much longer ago," said Younghans, 20, of Goshen, Ind., who is a sophomore at Valparaiso University.

"But I still think about it every day and realize how lucky I am."

It's easy to understand how Younghans is reminded each day about his gift from an organ donor; every day, he takes 30 pills, many prescribed as assurance his body won't resist his new heart as it continues to adapt to his body.

"I was just talking recently to another guy I met who also had a heart transplant years earlier, and he's now down to just one pill a day. Many of my meds are (over-the-counter) meds to help protect my stomach and kidneys from all the other meds."

Younghans was a high school athlete who played football, baseball and was on the swim team. His first sign of any heart trouble was in November 2009, while with his parents and sisters at Walt Disney World in Florida.

In addition to his father, Barry Younghans, who is principal of Goshen High School, and his mother, Lisa, a sixth-grade teacher, his three sisters noticed he seemed winded and had trouble sleeping and breathing while on the family's trip.

A visit to a 24-emergency immediate care center provided a short remedy until he returned home for a complete examination.

An echocardiogram, which is an ultrasound of the heart, revealed that not only was his heart enlarged, but also functioning at reduced capacity.

"I was immediately taken to Riley Hospital in Indianapolis, and after further examination, placed on the waiting list for a heart," Younghans said.

"I was 17 and really didn't understand everything (that was) happening. I just knew I didn't want to stay long in any hospital."

As for the cause of his heart's sudden diminished capacity, Younghans said it still remains a partial mystery.

"I had been very sick with a bad cold and fever that weakened me before all of that happened, and it's thought this virus is what attacked my heart," he said.

His official diagnosis was cardiomyopathy, which literally means "heart muscle disease," which weakens the heart's pumping function and can cause arrhythmia and sudden cardiac death.

Younghans graduated from Goshen High School and started at Valparaiso University in fall 2010. But as his heart weakened, he became so ill that by October he was back in the hospital for a 30-day stay and temporary procedure to keep his heart functioning until a donor heart could be found.

He wasn't allowed to return to campus in spring 2012 to avoid exposure to infection. Then at 5 a.m. Feb. 12, 2012, his father came into his bedroom and woke him up with the news a suitable heart had been located.

"I thought he was waking me up way too early for us to be going to church," Younghans recalled.

"We got right in the car and headed down to Indianapolis and by 3 p.m., the transplant was under way for the next several hours."

After another 10 days in the hospital, he was released and recovered more quickly than doctors expected.

"All I know about the donor is that it was a male my age, and he had served with the military in Iraq before returning home," he said.

Today, Younghans said he's happy to discuss his experience and spread education and awareness about "living heart-healthy."

"I smile every day," he said.

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