August 22, 1995 in Features

Heartbreak A Sudden Heart Disease Leaves 10-Year-Old Spokane Boy Waiting For A Transplant

By The Spokesman-Review

If she could just reach back into early July, Jan Prawdzik would gather up those lolling summer afternoons and hold them so much closer.

Soccer practice, track camp, carpools, sunburns. We’re so typical, the medical technologist would grouse goodnaturedly to her husband. So boring.

Then Brian, 10, started throwing up one night after track camp. He could only drink Gatorade and even that didn’t stay with him very long. After more than a week of feeling punk, he went into the doctor on July 21.

A chest X-ray on revealed an enlarged heart. The conclusion: congestive heart failure.

The All Saints School fifth-grader who’d started his summer running is ending it awaiting a heart transplant.

“It’s incredible,” said his mother, Jan. “Everybody we know is in shock.”

The heart that propelled Brian across the Bloomsday finish line ejects just 15 percent of the blood each time it contracts. A healthy person ejects 70 percent. The stomach distress and abdominal pain his parents thought were the flu were an enlarged liver and intestinal problems because of his heart’s inability to circulate blood.

Cardiologists say that he is at risk of sudden death. His heart is so weak, heroic measures wouldn’t save him.

Was it a virus that struck his heart? Congenital? Doctors are still trying to figure that out.

Both grandfathers died of heart disease and his father, Steve, has an enlarged left ventricle. But Steve, a bio-environmental engineer, is also healthy enough to be an active duty major in the U.S. Air Force.

Only about 20 other children Brian’s age are currently on a waiting list for a new heart in this country. Fewer than 5 percent of all heart transplants are performed on children under 18, according to the United Network for Organ Sharing.

Since no pediatric heart transplants are performed in Spokane, the Prawdziks traveled to Stanford University’s Lucille Packard’s Children’s Hospital a week ago.

They believed a heart would be waiting when they landed. That donor proved unsuitable. Now the Prawdziks wait with Brian and their daughter, Laura, 13.

Friends they are staying with in California “can’t believe I can tell you this without sobbing,” Jan admits during a phone interview.

“Well, been there, done that,” she said. “I had my nervous breakdown and uncontrollable sobbing. I wish this hadn’t happened with every fiber of my being, but it has and we have to go on.”

Brian spent three weeks in intensive care at Deaconess Medical Center being stabilized before going to California. He is thin and wiry and wants to go swimming.

“I feel perfectly OK,” he said. “When I found out about my heart, track camp was still going on and I was doing all this stuff and it’s like wow.”

Born at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland, Brian moved with the military family to California, Texas and Utah before they settled in Spokane three years ago.

The Prawdziks threw themselves into the community around All Saints School, into Cub Scouts and St. Peter’s Catholic Church, where Brian is an altar server.

He wants to be a priest, though the older he gets, the better being a singer or actor looks.

When Brian was told that the Stanford team accepted him as a candidate, he didn’t cry. He kept working on three-D jigsaw puzzles with his dad.

“It’s amazing how tough he’s been with that poor heart,” Steve said. “It should cause us all to stop and reflect.

“Turn to your children and hug them. You never know; it could change. It changed for us on July 21.”

Prayers have helped carry the family. Friends and Jan’s co-workers at Deaconess donated leave time and dinners. Fairchild officials have been supportive.

Brian’s pediatrician at Fairchild, Dr. John Tappel, ran Spokane’s Troika Triathlon Sunday in Brian’s honor.

The family knows of miracles.

A year into their marriage, Jan suffered a malignant tumor on her spinal cord. It was successfully removed and she completely recovered.

At Stanford, Jan hoped the surgeons reviewing Brian’s case would say there’d been a terrible mistake - he was fine.

They did not.

So now they wait. Jan is searching for an apartment and elementary school near Stanford so they can immediately respond when a heart becomes available. Steve and Laura will wait in Spokane.

But Brian is 10 years old. He wants to throw balls and take steps two at a time.

He wants to dive into the deep end of the swimming pool.

His mother lets him go to the pool. But promise, she says, just to float. Promise, she says, to be careful.

Knowing as she says it that nothing she can say will be enough.

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: 3 Color photos

MEMO: A benefit fund has been set up in Brian Prawdzik’s name at Seafirst Bank in Spokane.

A benefit fund has been set up in Brian Prawdzik’s name at Seafirst Bank in Spokane.

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