By Starrla Cray
DELANO, MN Seeing all the hearts for Valentine’s Day, Shannon and Sara (Mages) Motzko can’t help but think of their 3-year-old son, Gavin, who received a heart donation when he was just 10 months old.
“We’re so blessed to have him share his life with us,” Sara said.
During the Valentine season three years ago, the Motzkos were on the verge of heartbreak, trying to cope with the news that Gavin had an incurable heart condition known as dilated cardiomyopathy,
Doctors said he wouldn’t survive without a transplant, and estimated a two-month wait. Meanwhile, Gavin’s condition worsened. By early April, he was on oxygen support, his kidneys were failing, and his left lung had collapsed.
On the evening of April 8, Sara asked friends and family to say a prayer for a new heart. When she awoke the next day, a group of doctors told her a heart would be arriving from the East Coast.
“Every year we celebrate his transplant April 9,” Sara said. “We have all our family over for cake and ice cream.”
With Gavin’s birthday June 9, the family calls the two-month-period his “birthday season.”
The Motzkos currently reside in Eden Prairie, but Gavin’s grandparents, Ronald and Diane Mages and Sheila Swartzer, as well as his great-grandparents, Earl and Gladys Taylor and Albin and Adella Mages, are from the Delano area.
“Gavin is a really smart kid,” Sarah said. “He’ll show you the scar on his chest and say that’s where he had a heart transplant. He knows an airplane flew his heart to the Mayo Clinic, and he knows he was in the hospital for a long time.”
Gavin also loves playing with his 1.5-year-old sister, Katelin.
“When she was born, the hospital thought there might be something wrong with her heart,” Sara recalled. Fortunately, tests showed no sign of abnormalities a few months later.
A tricky time
After experiencing a near tragedy with their son, Shannon and Sara have learned to be grateful for the health of their children.
“It really opens your eyes,” Sara said. “We appreciate every second we have with them.”
That’s not to say the past few years have been trouble-free, however.
“It’s been tricky, but nothing that’s not doable,” Sara said, explaining that Gavin had painful skin problems for awhile.
“He also developed food allergies, and is now allergic to 15 or 16 different items,” she added.
As a result, the family never goes out to eat, and makes all meals from scratch.
Because Gavin is immunosuppressed, going places, in general, is also a challenge.
“He wears a mask when we go shopping, because it’s cold and flu season,” Sara said.
The family decided it would be impractical to have Gavin in daycare, so Shannon quit his day job to stay home with him. When Sara gets home from her job, Shannon goes to work part-time in the evenings.
Gavin recently started attending preschool classes twice a week, but if a child there has been sick, he has to stay home.
For the rest of his life, Gavin will be on three different immunosuppressant drugs, to ensure his body doesn’t reject his heart.
“The medicines he takes are really hard on the kidneys, so there’s a possibility he’ll need a kidney transplant one day,” Sara said.
Because of medical expenses, finances have been a struggle, as well.
“We live very frugal no extras whatsoever,” Sara said.
But, despite difficult circumstances, the Motzkos look at each day as a blessing.
“Gavin’s been practicing writing his name on Valentine cards to give to the kids at preschool, and I’m very thankful he has that opportunity,” Sara said.
Sara describes her son as a “bookworm” with a passion for learning.
“He’s loves looking at his globe,” she said. “When he hears of a place on the news, he always wants to know where it is.”
The other day, Gavin pretended to be the president, and who knows? Thanks to the gift of a donated heart, his future is wide open.