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Young Heart Transplant Recipient Eager to Return to School

February 13, 1986

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Freckle-faced Donna Ashlock, who received the heart of her classmate in a highly publicized transplant operation Jan. 5, said Thursday she is eager to return to school after a whirlwind visit to the capital.

The 14-year-old Patterson, Calif., girl met with President Reagan, saw Washington’s famous attractions and visited an art gallery in three days.

″I’ve had a wonderful time here,″ Donna said at a news conference where she, her parents and her doctor talked about the dramatic set of events that led to her receiving a heart from Felipe Garza Jr., 15.

″It’s a sensational story,″ Donna’s physician, Dr. Andrew Fryer said in providing details about her operation and recovery.

Donna, a small girl casually dressed in blue jeans, a sweater and high-top aerobic shoes, was shy about answering questions, especially those concerning her relationship with Garza. On occasion, she refused to talk or rolled her eyes to the ceiling.

″He had a crush on her, as far as we can determine,″ Fryer said of Garza.

Last Dec. 15, Donna, who suffered from a rare disease in which the heart muscle degenerates, entered a hospital in San Francisco, about 75 miles northwest of her hometown, a rural community of about 5,000 people.

About that time, Garza told his mother that he was going to die and he wanted Donna to have his heart, Garza’s family said.

On Jan. 4, the youth died after a blood vessel burst in his head, and his family carried out his wish by ordering his heart sent to Donna. Garza’s heart was a ″good match″ for her, Fryer said.

″I hope what Peno (Garza) did shows how people can help each other,″ Donna said earlier. ″I felt sad but thankful for what he did.″

Donna’s father, Raymond, a public works supervisor in Patterson, said he has visited with Garza’s family since the operation. ″I thanked them and told them that he (Garza) has given us hope,″ he said.

Donna, a ninth grader whose passions include playing baseball, singer Michael Jackson and talking on the telephone, came home from the hospital on Jan. 22.

Since then, she has spent two hours a day in physical therapy, riding a stationary bicycle and walking. Although she tires easily, she said she is looking forward to going back to high school next Tuesday.

″We’re most pleased with her recovery ... younger patients snap back quickly,″ Fryer said. Nonetheless, Donna takes medication to help suppress rejection of the new heart, and she’ll likely have to undergo therapy for about a decade, he said.

Doctors and family members also will help Donna cope with any emotional side effects of the operation, Fryer said.

Most transplant patients are never told who provided the organ, but Donna’s case was so unusual that her parents opted to inform her fully of the circumstances as soon as they felt she could deal handle the news, Fryer said.

Donna and her family agreed to travel to Washington so she could be an honored guest at a Valentine’s Day dance benefiting the American Heart Association.

At her meeting with Reagan, she exchanged gifts, and said the president told her: ″Donna, my prayers have been with you.″

Doctors say about 600 heart transplant operations were performed in the United States in 1985. Fryer said an operation like Donna’s cost about $80,000.

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