Baby heart transplant recipient inspires social media campaign to thank organ donor family
BOTHELL, Wash. - It has been one year since a little boy from Bothell was saved by a heart transplant.
Now his family is expressing their heart-felt gratitude for the life-saving gift, knowing that someone has given their loved one a second chance. The family turned to social media and the kindness of strangers for help to say thank you to the organ donor and the donor’s family.
16-month-old Ezra Koenig had a heart transplant in August 2016. His family says he was diagnosed prenatal with Ebstein’s Anomaly and Left Ventricular Noncompaction.
Little Ezra was about three months old when he was put on the transplant list. His family says Ezra desperately needed a new heart and was fighting for his life, but a donor changed all that. Ezra got a second chance and his family got more time.
“He has a minute more. And what a gift. I can’t think of a better gift than that,” said Ezra’s mother Laura Koenig.
Laura remembers what it felt like to hold Ezra after his surgery.
“Chest to chest. Heart to heart. I remember feeling his heart just beating,” said Laura.
Just recently, Ezra reached the one-year anniversary of his heart transplant.
“We have just a tremendous amount of respect and gratitude,” said Ezra’s father Daniel Koenig about the donor family and their decision. “When we see Ezra, listen to his heart, and watch him playing, we know that it’s only possible because of what they’re willing to give to him.”
To mark Ezra’s huge milestone and his "heartiversary" as the Koenig family calls it, they launched a special social media campaign. They asked people to post pictures of hearts on Twitter and Facebook with the hashtag #GiveAHeart.
“We just tried to flood the internet with hearts,” said Ezra’s grandmother, Cheryl Koenig.
His family says they started the #GiveAHeart campaign to express their gratitude to Ezra’s donor family’s choice to donate. The campaign also pays tribute to families who have lost their loved ones but have chosen to donate their organs to give life.
“So people started posting pictures to the give a heart campaign,” said Cheryl.
Among the many different images collected: a lumberjack-themed cake with a heart, a heart quilt, a heart made out of Cheerios, and a tattoo.
“There’s somebody who's got a tattoo on their leg and it’s a beautiful tattoo of the heart,” said Cheryl.
The family was blown away by the support.
“So many of these people are strangers to us and they were happy to jump in and do it and excited to participate,” said Cheryl.
They collected 365 pictures of hearts --one for every day of the year--and compiled them into a special video to say thank you to Ezra's heart donor.
“People can watch it, people can share it, people can spread it. 365 hearts. You have to pause it a lot to count all the hearts, but they are definitely there,” said Cheryl.
The family says the video is also to remind everyone of the important choice to become an organ donor.
“If you want to change someone's life, here's a way to do it,” said Daniel.
The Koenig family says the entire experience has brought the family together.
“Ezra has had five surgeries this year. He got out of the hospital yesterday for various infections,” said Laura.
The Koenig family said the cost for all of Ezra’s care has been adding up quickly. They said the gas for doctor’s appointments, along with genetic testing and hearing aids are just a few of the many expenses that are not covered by insurance and have added up to thousands of dollars.
Children’s Organ Transplant Association (COTA) is a national charity that helps raise money for transplant-related expenses. The Koenig family said volunteers are raising money for COTA in honor of patients like Ezra. Bothell volunteers are hoping to raise $100,000.