A beating heart: How a transplant united two families at the Eagle River High graduation

ADN | Tegan Hanlon
Shawn Stockwell laughs at home with his mother, Trista. Shawn was the recipient of a heart transplant in 2008. (Marc Lester / Alaska Dispatch News)
Trista Stockwell wrapped her arms around her son, Shawn, in the family's Eagle River home last week. She wiped tears from her eyes. She couldn't believe Shawn, born with half a working heart, would graduate from high school in a week. For so long, she said, so many people thought it would be impossible.

"I love you so much," Trista told him. "I'm so proud of you. Have I told you that today?"

Nearly nine years ago, Shawn received a life-saving heart transplant at Stanford Medicine's children's hospital in Palo Alto, California. Born with a rare and complicated heart defect called hypoplastic left heart syndrome, he had spent years fighting for his life.

"There were times that we didn't know if he would make it another day," Trista said.

After waiting nearly three years on the transplant list, Shawn received his new heart in July 2008, 10 days shy of his 10th birthday.

For Shawn, the heart meant he would live. For Trista, it meant that maybe her son would drive a car one day, and "dare we dream, actually graduate high school," she said. But as she imagined the new possibilities on the day of the transplant, she said her thoughts also turned to the parents of the donor and the sadness they must have felt at that very same moment. Continue reading
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