HOUSTON—When we first met Tyler Nelson in late 2010, he was a 16-year-old from Grand Prairie, Texas struggling with the ravages of cystic fibrosis. He was frail and time was growing short, but Tyler wanted to spread the message about the worldwide need for organ donation.
"God is gonna bless me with a lung and liver pretty soon," he said. "And as long as I continue to pray and have support, I know I’ll be good."
Tyler’s blessing came on Tuesday at Texas Children’s Hospital in Houston. After a 16-month wait, a matching donor had finally been found.
Tyler went into surgery Tuesday night at 6:30 p.m. and doctors declared the lung/liver transplant a success at 10:30 a.m. Wednesday morning.
"I just simply gave him a big hug and told him I loved him," said his mom, Cynthia Nevels, of their last conversation before the operation. "I kept it simple and he hugged me for a long time before he walked in."
Tyler’s message about organ donation has spread far beyond Texas. He is African American, a community traditionally with a lower percentage of organ donors.
Finding the best match for a recipient does not necessarily depend on race. Caucasian donors regularly match African American recipients, for example, and vice versa.
But transplant experts say Tyler’s odds would be improved by finding a donor of his own race.
So in television, newspaper, and internet interviews, Tyler spread that message. And sources tell KHOU 11 that the donor came from a family that had seen Tyler’s organ donation message on TV.
"There’s a need for donors," said Tyler’s transplant surgeon, Dr. Marc Schecter at Texas Children’s Hospital. "And it’s the greatest gift you can give to somebody else is a second opportunity at life."
"We couldn’t live, he couldn’t live, without someone saying "’yes" and giving that gift of life," said Tyler’s mom, Cynthia Nevels. "So we’re very grateful for that."
And grateful Tyler is now in select company. Only 80 to 100 pediatric lung transplants are attempted worldwide each year. Schecter says the 5-year survival rate for a pediatric lung transplant patient is roughly 50 percent.
But it’s an intricate attempt made only if another family chooses to make the always difficult and generous decision to donate.
Doctors say Tyler Nelson is recovering well. They expect to remove him from a ventilator Friday evening and allow him to breathe on his own with his new lungs for the very first time.
If all goes well, he could be released from the hospital to begin his new life in just a few weeks.