KEYSTONE HEIGHTS – The sterile smell of antiseptic, the dull florescent lighting and the muffled beeps of monitors have, at long last, been replaced by the smell of swimming pool chlorine, bright …
KEYSTONE HEIGHTS – The sterile smell of antiseptic, the dull florescent lighting and the muffled beeps of monitors have, at long last, been replaced by the smell of swimming pool chlorine, bright sunshine and the playful giggles of a family who are happy to be away from the hospital.
For Sage Pridemore, life continues to be a day-by-day, if not step-by-step, process. But with each day, the pain and ache get a little more manageable; recovery becomes a little more plausible.
The deep scar down the middle of his chest will never disappear. It will be an ugly reminder of the anticipation and fear of waiting for a heart that may not come in time.
Life isn’t supposed to be this difficult for anyone, but for a 14-year-old, the anguish was unspeakable.
Now, seven weeks after a surgeon replaced his degenerative heart with a healthy one, Sage is anxious to return to a simple life he once took for granted.
He longs to be back on the water, swimming and fishing, riding wakeboards and tubing. He misses baseball and football.
But he’s alive. And for now, that’s all that matters.
“I haven’t done much. My chest is still sore,” he said by telephone. “If something were to fall on it, it would hurt. Certain stuff like throwing a baseball, throwing a football, something that I would do normally, I just can’t do yet. The scar’s healed, but I’m still sore and achy with certain things that I do.
“I’m looking forward to going in the lakes and fishing, going to the [Keystone] Beach and going swimming. I just want to get in the water. I’m ready to play sports and get outside. I’m ready to do stuff.”
Doctors told the family all of that will come with time. To decrease the chances of infection, he’s not allowed to have visitors for several more weeks. Last week, he was allowed to take another baby step – getting in the pool and slowly walking laps. No splashing, no swimming, no cannonballs.
“It’s been six weeks, so he can go in the pool. He has to be kind of slow,” said his mother, Candice Pridemore. “He can’t go swimming and things like that. He’s still taking it slow and gets out of breath. He’s still getting adjusted to the medicine. Some of the anti-rejection meds make him shake. He’s getting used to doing things with shaky hands. It makes him have stomach issues, but we’re happy to have him home.
“He has a new puppy and we’re still getting the kinks out. We’re still trying to figure out everyday life. We haven’t gone anywhere; we haven’t done anything. We’re just staying to the house.”
Sage was born with half of a heart. The condition is called hypoplastic left heart syndrome. He’s been through several surgeries to remove bronchial casts since he was 3. The bronchial casts – a formation of plugs that block the airways in his lung – came so often and was so threatening, it prompted surgeons to move him to the top of the transplant list.
Sage originally was supposed to get a new heart on June 21, but that surgery was called off when he developed a fever. Doctors told the family his need for a new heart had become desperate.
That all ended on July 29 when a rescue squad ambulance arrived at the emergency entrance of the UF Health Heart and Vascular Hospital in Gainesville. The heart was quickly transported into the hospital by three technicians – one who muttered: “It’s a good heart” – shortly before he disappeared into one of the busy hallways. From there, Dr. Mark S. Bleiweis performed the operation that was deemed “successful.”
Sage spent 129 days on the transplant list and 71 days in the hospital. The only numbers that matter now is the years ahead of the teen.
“We’ve known about this since he was born. We knew one day it was coming,” Candice said. “Now we know he has his second chance. Things are going good. It’s also the most trying and the toughest time, watching him go through so much pain and so much physical aching. You know it’s for a good cause, but you can’t help but want to take the pain away.
“There wasn’t an alternative. We knew he had to have it, but we thought it would be when he was in his late teens or early 20s. We’re a big Children’s Miracle Network ambassador family and Sage has always shared his story. One thing he always said was when he was in his late teens or early 20s, he would have to have a heart transplant. In the background, he knew it was in the future. That’s still far away. It wasn’t as far away as we thought. It still kind of took us by surprise.”
Dr. Frederick J. Fricker, who specializes in pediatric cardiology at UF Health, promised to give Sage a puppy after surgery. He made good on that in mid-July with a golden retriever named Ruby.
The next milestone for Sage will come when he’s allowed to venture beyond the family property line, and when visitors are allowed to see the miracle of his transplant and recovery for themselves.
And if all goes well and the threat of COVID-19 subsides, he will be allowed to return to Keystone Heights Junior High in February, his mother said.
“I want to go back to school,” he said. “If it was up to me, I think I’m good now to go back to school. I understand that I’m not. They tell me I’m not ready for that, but I’m ready. When it does happen, I’ll be ready for it.”
Sage also knows there is a community to thank. Hundreds watched his progress on his Facebook page, SageStrong. Many of those followers came to Melrose Heritage Park on July 31 to raise money and awareness. The event quickly turned into a celebration as everyone learned of the successful transplant hours earlier.
“It definitely made me fight harder, knowing there was a lot of people behind my back,” Sage said. “It helped me through the hospital.”
Now it’s up to him to keep improving, even if it’s one step at a time.