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Oldsmar teen Michael Quinn heart transplant surgery Sunday at All Children's Hospital

A failing heart caused Michael Quinn to live in reverse isolation at All Children's Hospital for three-and-a-half months as he waited for a transplant.

It meant late-night poker games with nurses. And visits with friends who wore surgical masks.

But at 16, Michael was ready for a life — and the new heart that would give him one.

"I will be glad when this ordeal is over," he said Sunday by phone. "I just want to go home."

Earlier that day, he had learned his wish would soon come true — a donor had been found.

"Vital organ is on its way," he told his mother.

Hours later, his long and dangerous journey to a brighter future would begin with a six-hour surgery.

By 10:30 p.m. Sunday, Michael's new donor heart was in place and beating on its own.

Late Monday afternoon, Michael was "doing well and progressing as expected," said Cindy Rose, hospital spokeswoman.

• • •

On Jan. 13, Michael was climbing steps at Clearwater Central Catholic High School, when he started to sweat. He felt weak, faint.

He was taken to Morton Plant Hospital, where a blood test revealed he was in heart failure. From there, he was transferred to All Children's Hospital, where he remained in the cardiovascular intensive care unit.

On Sunday, Michael was upbeat waiting to be prepped for the surgery, but he didn't want to get his hopes too high.

Earlier this year, he was to receive another heart, but the surgery was canceled at the last minute because the organ carried a virus.

Michael was 10 when he was diagnosed with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, a condition where the heart has a difficult time pumping blood because the walls within are thickened.

"When you hear of young athletes dropping dead on the field, it's often because of that," said his mother, Silvia Quinn, 35.

• • •

Silvia Quinn is a cardiovascular invasive specialist assisting physicians with cardiac catheterization procedures at Morton Plant Hospital.

She knows that when Michael returns home in about a month, his surroundings need to be in "pristine condition."

Immunosuppressive drugs, used to reduce the body's tendency to reject the new organ, will leave Michael vulnerable to a host of illnesses.

"Mold, mildew and dust have got to be removed or it could be lethal," she said.

For the past three months, she and her longtime significant other, Chuck Degrenia, have spent countless hours renovating their 1980s home in Oldsmar.

It's on a small lake. Over the years, mold and mildew have crept their way into walls, woodwork and doors.

They all had to go.

So did the carpeting, the laminated wood floors, and the dusty popcorn ceiling.

Molding was replaced or sanded and repainted. Shelves were pressure-washed.

Degrenia, 38, a commercial and residential remodeling contractor, did most of the work himself.

"If I didn't know how to do this, I'd be in a world of trouble," he said.

He recalled when Michael was a little tyke.

"He asked if he could call me 'Dad,' " Degrenia said. "I thought that was the most wonderful thing."

Friends and neighbors like Dave Wachtler, 53, have spent weekends helping.

"I love Michael dearly and want this to work out for them," he said.

PODS donated two units to help the family store furniture. Home Depot donated $7,000 to the cause.

Co-workers have been making dinner and bringing it to the couple for months.

Others have donated money through a Web site and a special Wachovia bank account.

Quinn said the family owes about $400,000 in co-pays and deductibles and has nearly reached their $2 million limit with Blue Cross/Blue Shield.

And Michael will need expensive medications the rest of his life.

"It's all part of the transplant journey," Quinn said. "It's overwhelming."

• • •

As a kid, Michael Quinn wasn't the kind to race a bike around the block for three hours at a time. He had to limit his activity level, so he took up ballroom dancing.

He loves to read and plans to study corporate law.

At Clearwater Catholic Central, he has held many leadership roles, including that of youth minister.

As word of Michael's transplant surgery spread, students were both delighted and a bit fearful, said John Venturella, president of the school.

"It's a whole batch of emotions," he said. "The students are praying for Michael and the donor that made this possible."

One of Michael's closest friends, Daniel Strehle, said Michael was an upbeat kind of guy.

"I've never seen him frown. In fact, some of his friends are more depressed and worried about his condition than he is," Strehle said. "But Michael knew he'd make it.

"I know he'll make it."

Want to help?

A bank account to benefit Quinn is set up at Wachovia banks, account No. 3000025117687. Or visit

Oldsmar teen Michael Quinn heart transplant surgery Sunday at All Children's Hospital 05/04/09 [Last modified: Monday, May 4, 2009 8:51pm]
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