Patrick and Madelyn Gahan of west Cobb, with their daughters, Mya and Anya. Mya (the smaller girl) had a heart transplant at the age of 3. She is now 7 and doing well. (Lindsay Larson / Special)

Campaign puts focus on pediatric heart transplant research

As the father of three young daughters, John Driskell Hopkins of the Zac Brown Band knows all too well the importance of a healthy heart.

One of his daughter’s friends died this year as a result of a heart defect, said the singer-songwriter, who lives in east Cobb. Hopkins performed a recent holiday concert with the Atlanta Pops Ensemble at the Vista Room in Decatur to benefit Enduring Hearts, a local organization that raises money for pediatric heart transplant research.

“There are so many things we think about during the Christmas season, and kids are a big focal point,” Hopkins said. “This is an opportunity to bring awareness to folks who may not realize these transplants don’t last.”

The average pediatric heart transplant lasts about 12 years, “and those aren’t always great years,” said Ankur Chatterjee, executive director of Enduring Hearts. “We try to make them last longer, and we also try to figure out ways — through research, techniques and medicines — to improve the quality of life of these kids.”

Enduring Hearts was established in 2013 by Chatterjee’s best friends, Patrick and Madelyn Gahan. The west Cobb couple’s daughter Mya had a heart transplant at the age of 3. She’s now 7, and “doing really well,” Chatterjee said. “But, there is always that underlying concern. She takes five different pills per day every day at the same time of day. She has to control her immune system because her immune system is constantly trying to attack the donated heart.

“These kids live with this the rest of their lives. It’s not over after the initial transplant. They have to get a biopsy every year. If there are signs of rejection, they have to have treatment.”

Chatterjee wants these families to know that someone is working hard on their behalf to raise money and awareness of the problem. The nonprofit’s inaugural Bourbon Gala and Auction earlier this year raised $50,000. Recently, Hopkins created a songbook with Always Saturday, a group of artists who create songs and stories for worthy causes.

“The Moose & the Golden Spike” is an illustrated storybook with downloadable themed songs. Hopkins is featured as a storyteller. The books are available online at Friends Fill Hearts Campaign (gofundme.com/500hearts).

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Holiday Heroes is a seasonal series that highlights those in Atlanta who make a difference in their communities. Each story highlights people impacting the lives of others.

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