The Norman Transcript

November 28, 2012

Five-year-old needs second heart transplant

By Jocelyn Pedersen
The Norman Transcript

NORMAN — A 5-year-old Lexington resident is in need of a new heart. His second one.

Jhett Skaggs, the son of Bryan and Audra Skaggs, was born with a heart condition that caused him to need a heart transplant at 10 months.

After receiving his transplant, Jhett eventually has grown into a normal 5-year-old boy who, as his mother, Audra Skaggs, said, “has been through a lifetime of surgeries that most adults never face.”

But Jhett’s story doesn’t end there. This is where it begins again.

After having his new heart for about five years, he has developed transplant coronary artery disease, which — according to several online sources — is a common immunologic phenomenon often necessitating a repeat transplant. Audra Skaggs said this is a disease process not related to heart transplant rejection.

So Jhett and his dad, Brian Skaggs, have headed to Houston’s Texas Children’s Hospital, where Jhett has been placed on a waiting list for a new heart — a process requiring a great deal of paperwork, labs and insurance approval among other necessities, Audra Skaggs said.

She said that before his first transplant, Jhett was so close to death, he had to stay in the hospital while waiting for a new heart. This time, Brian and Jhett are staying in a house given to them by a family friend, since transplant candidates must stay within an hour of the hospital.

Audra Skaggs is a teacher in Lexington and must stay home during the week and visit on weekends when she’s able.

She said when the call arrives that a new heart for Jhett has become available, she’ll be able to travel to Houston and be with her son for the surgery.

When asked how Jhett is taking all of this, Audra said, “He understands where his heart came from the first time and that his heart is sick again and that he’s going to have to have surgery again. He knows another child will have to pass in order for him to get the heart.”

Audra Skaggs describes her son as a “very happy and easy-going child” who takes everything well.

She said when Jhett had his first surgery at 10 months of age, he didn’t have a group of friends. This time, he’s going to have to miss school and now he has friends he’ll miss as well. He’ll be in Houston until he receives his new heart, and then he’ll be in the hospital for about two weeks with an additional mandatory three-month stay near the hospital.

Throughout their ordeal, Audra Skaggs said the family’s Baptist church in Lexington has been very supportive.

“I’m very grateful for my church family,” Audra Skaggs said. “I don’t know how anyone does without the support of their church.”

But continued support is needed due to, among other costs, mounting medical bills and paying utilities on two households (one at home and one in Houston near the hospital), all while only having one income to support the Skaggs’ four-person family.

A similar financial burden a few years ago led to the family being nominated and selected for an Extreme Home Makeover.

The Lexington couple and their two young children were chosen in February 2010 as the recipients of a new home, courtesy of the ABC television show “Extreme Makeover Home Edition.” Ideal Homes of Norman and a team of hundreds of local volunteers built the couple a new home.

In an interview this March, the couple said they are grateful for the house but find it frustrating to not be able to thank more people personally.

They know the Ideal Homes team that organized and coordinated the project, and they know the builders who made this project a priority. But they weren’t present when the work was being done.

“We didn’t see them. We don’t know who they are,” Audra said in March, adding that they would like to thank each of them.

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