Newborn needed new heart to live
Halfway through her pregnancy, Amanda Zenner learned her baby had an enlarged heart.
Before he was born, baby Mason was diagnosed with heart failure, a condition that limited the amount of blood flowing through his developing body.
"We were living day to day," Amanda says. "I'd see kids playing on the playground and would burst into tears because I didn't know if I'd get to see my son doing that."
Through careful management of Amanda's health, her pregnancy went full term and she gave birth to what appeared to be a healthy baby boy.
Deb Zenner, Mason's grandmother, recalls the delivery room scene that included members of two teams: mom's labor and delivery team and baby's intensive care team.
"There were so many people in the room waiting for his arrival," Deb says.
Mason had been placed on the heart transplant waiting list before he was born and spent his first six months under the close watch of the UI Stead Family Children’s Hospital Neonatal Intensive Care Unit team.
Amanda quit her job and was at his side through that half year, getting breaks when husband Matt could get away from his job in their hometown of Cedar Rapids.
Just after the six-month mark—after Mason's first Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years were spent in the NICU—a donor heart became available for Mason.
Then, just 12 days after a 7.5-hour transplant surgery, Mason went home to stay.
Following his roller-coaster first six months of life, Mason today is an active four-year-old: a big brother to two-year-old sister Lily, a T-ball player, a pizza fanatic, and a loyal Hawkeye fan. The anti-rejection medicines and precautions to prevent infection are part of the family's routine.
Trips back to UI Stead Family Children’s Hospital for regular check ups give Mason a chance to see Kinnick Stadium close up.
On a recent visit, he offered: "We're gonna go to the field today so I can get bigger and bigger to play in the Hawkeye football stadium."
And who else does he plan to see there?
"Herky is my favorite in the Iowa Hawkeye stadium."
Doctors say that by the time Mason is old enough to see Hawkeye mascot Herky from the student section in Kinnick, he will have to undergo another heart transplant, due to normal developmental changes.
"We have constant worry," says Grandma Deb, who remains optimistic about her brave grandson's future. "There's got to be something good in store for him since he survived all of this."
Amanda and Matt have become advocates for organ donation through the Iowa Donor Network.
Following Mason's transplant, they wrote the donor family: "We hope someday we will be able to thank you personally, even though that will never be enough."
Amanda says: "We are here today because a family did such a selfless thing, they gave my son life."