Ronald Murphy was born with a rare birth defect called hypoplastic left heart syndrome, which means his left ventricle was not fully developed. Doctors knew of his condition from prenatal ultrasounds, and he was placed on a waiting list for a heart transplant soon after his birth.
When Ronald was born in 1996, a transplant was his only chance for survival. At age 11 weeks, an infant heart became available.
It was never expected that Ronald would make it to his 18th Birthday, even with the life saving heart transplant. So his family celebrated Saturday with a big surprise bash! But Ronald wasn’t the only guest of honor. The family of the infant girl whose heart keeps Murphy alive was there, too.
In 1996 Kaylee Kunkel had died in Illinois two weeks after being born with multiple health problems, and her heart was sent to St. Louis Children’s Hospital. This heart was then given to Ronald and saved his life.
Kevin and Michelle Kunkel along with daughters Kenzie, 14, and Maddy, 11, drove from Pecatonica, Ill., near Rockford, because “18 is a big deal,” said Michelle Kunkel.
The Kunkels, who donated their baby girls organs 18 years ago said it was not a difficult decision. The young boy who received Kaylee’s liver died within five years of the transplant. But her heart has reached adulthood inside Ronald Murphy.
Nearly one in 100 babies across the gloabe are born with a congenital heart defect, and 10 percent of those are considered candidates for transplants because the defect can’t be corrected with surgery or other treatments. Hypoplastic left heart syndrome is no longer considered an automatic cause for transplant, in part because of new surgical techniques but also because of a shortage of donor hearts.
This is the second time that the families have met. They first met when Ronald was a toddler, which he doesn’t remember. On Saturday, they met once again to celebrate Ronald’s birthday, a reminder that their daughter would have been the same age.
Picture above: Transplant recipient Ronald Murphy Jr. and his mother, Catherine Murphy (left), greet Michelle Kunkel, mother of the infant that was an organ donor in the infant heart transplant that saved Ronald Murphy's life. Photo by Sid Hastings