Ah, March 30. Smoke filled the sky and traffic was clogged for hours as a chunk of I-85 burned, then collapsed. “Disaster” doesn’t seem like a big enough word.
And yet dedicated supporters eager to fund research to help heart-transplant recipients were undeterred that night, raising $85,000 during the Bourbon Gala and Auction fundraiser at The Stave Room at American Spirit Works – a rock’s throw from where 85 incinerated and fell.
The charity the night aided could not be more aptly named: Enduring Hearts.
Patrick and Madelyn Gahan of Cobb County founded the organization in 2013 after doctors discovered in 2012 that their daughter Mya, then 3, needed a heart transplant.
“She was about 15 months when she was diagnosed with an enlarged heart,” Madelyn Gahan said. “She went a couple of years on medication. When she was just about 3 she was put on the transplant list. The morning of her 3rd birthday she was admitted to the hospital.”
It would be a six-month wait. They’re fortunate to have family in the area who could help with the Gahans’ older daughter, Anya, now 10, but juggling schedules amid the trying time took some doing.
“We published a weekly calendar for everyone,” Patrick Gahan noted. He recalled celebrating Easter in the hospital that year, pushing Mya’s IV pole as she set out on the Easter Egg hunt set up for patients Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta at Egleston.
“It was something that you just do because you have no choice,” he said. “Some days you would break down because you were so exhausted, stressed.”
Mya’s surgery finally took place in September 2012. She had the surgery on a Monday and was home that Friday.
“She had the longest wait and the fastest recovery,” Madelyn Gahan said. “We came home with a new heart.”
During our interview with her parents in their dining room, Mya hung out with her sister in the family room before heading out to play. Both girls are active in after-school activities and enjoy the outdoors (Anya is an especially adroit tree-climber).
While they’re grateful for Mya’s current good health, the Gahans know she will likely need another transplant in the future.
“One of the things you learn is this is not a cure, this is a solution for now. The average heart transplant lasts 12 years,” Patrick Gahan said. “The good news is the younger you are the less developed your immune system is, and the less likely it will reject (the donor organ).”
The Gahans aren't medical professionals - her background is in social work and his is technology and computer science - but have become well versed in medical terms and procedures. They're also determined to help families in situations similar to theirs. The research Enduring Hearts supports will aid all transplant patients, and has expanded to include research in preventing heart conditions.
“Our whole goal was, how can we make an impact?” Patrick Gahan said.
The March 30 fundraiser was just one example of the organization's work, and the impressive turnout exemplifies its supporters’ dedication.
As the event was held right near the affected portion of the highway, some folks actually abandoned their cars and walked or hailed rides to make it.
The evening featured performances from John Driskell Hopkins and Erin Alvey O’Sullivan and live and silent auctions. Celebrity guests included former Atlanta Falcons offensive lineman Garrett Reynolds, New York Giants wide receiver and University of Georgia alum Tavarres King and Kansas City Chiefs and UGA alum Chris Conley (who also gave an acoustic guitar performance).
For details on the research Enduring Hearts helps fund, its resources for families and its impressive roster of medical and scientific advisers see enduringhearts.org.
The Gahans don't know much about the family who lost a loved one prior to Mya's surgery but are grateful for their decision to donate.
"Organs are generally donated because of an accident - tragic things," Madelyn Gahan said, stressing the importance of registering as an organ donor. "No one like to think about it. You never know what is going to happen in life. Just think, 'Would I want to save somebody else’s life?'"