HOUSTON -- When you wait 894 days for a heart transplant and also owe your survival to several blood transfusions, you become a willing ambassador for organ and blood donation.
And it doesn't matter if you're just 11 years old.
Rylan Karrer from Montgomery is now that poster child for the life-saving benefits of organ and blood donation. Diagnosed with restrictive cardiomyopathy, a heart transplant was his only option. His health was slowly deteriorating, limiting him at times to a wheelchair because he often didn't have the strength to walk.
"I was bored because I was never able to run with my friends, or do other stuff that they could. So I was real bored and I felt left out," he said.
The transplant finally happened four months ago at Texas Children's Hospital. His recovery is going well. He's home, still unable to attend public school, but his improvement has been dramatic.
"I feel like I could run a marathon," he says now. And he's waiting for full medical clearance to ride a rollercoaster. Those lawyer-mandated warning signs about anyone with a "heart condition" always referred to him.
"The first thing I would want to do is go on a roller coaster because I haven't been on one of those in forever," Rylan said.
"He wouldn't be here today," said his mom Kristi Karrer when asked about organ and blood donation. "Blood donation is something that so many people can do, and there are so many happy endings because of that as well."
Rylan's happy ending came at the expense of another family – something each donor recipient family has to come to terms with. The Karrer family only knows that the donor heart that saved Rylan came from an 11-year-old girl. The transplant happened on Easter Sunday.
"And Mother's Day wasn't that long afterwards," Kristi Karrer said of the emotional week that saw Rylan's wait come to an end.
"But I thought so much for the other family," she said as the memories brought her to tears. "A pretty rough week."
Tuesday Kristi Karrer was among dozens who chose to donate blood during the KHOU 11 Blood Drive with the Gulf Coast Regional Blood Center, which says it needs as many as 1,000 donations a day to keep up with demand.
"Do it because it can save lives," Rylan said in a live interview during Great Day Houston. And when we asked him later what he thought of people who donate blood, Rylan, who often says "I give it a thumbs up" to things he likes, said "It's a double thumbs up."
Now through Labor Day, mention the KHOU 11 Blood Drive when you donate at the Gulf Coast Regional Blood Center and you will receive a free T-shirt and a coupon for a pint of Blue Bell Ice Cream.