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Dyer toddler waits for heart transplant

By Cara Zarecor

Lincoln Hopper, who will be two years old in November, went to LeBonheur Children’s Hospital on Saturday, Sept. 7 when he began to swell with fluid. Once there, doctors told his parents that he was showing signs of heart failure and would not get to come home until he receives a heart transplant.

The toddler is the son of Zach Hopper and Chelsea Cunningham, a young engaged Dyer couple, who also have a seven-month-old daughter, Lynlee.

Before, family days at home were spent playing outside, Lincoln’s favorite place to be. He enjoys playing with his bouncy ball and especially loves riding on his Big Wheel. Right now, though, all Lincoln and his family can do is wait—possibly 100 days or much longer—until Lincoln gets a new heart.

Few can imagine having a toddler with such ongoing health issues and treatment needs as Lincoln has, but to Hopper and Cunningham, it’s “just a way of life.” When Cunningham was 20 weeks pregnant, she had an anatomy scan which revealed that not-yet-born Lincoln had Heterotaxy Syndrome, a rare birth defect that signifies the different arrangement of the heart and other organs.

Heterotaxy Syndrome, which affects one in 10,000, affects different children in different ways, but in nearly every circumstance it affects the heart. For Lincoln, the biggest issue is “dextrocardia,” where in his case, his single-ventricle heart lies on the right side of the chest rather than the left. Hopper said that Lincoln also has two right lungs, a flipped liver and no spleen.

Hopper said that he is on leave from work through the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) for 13 weeks, but that those 13 weeks are without pay. He doesn’t leave the hospital, but his fiancee and baby daughter have been provided lodging at The FedEx House, a nearby nonprofit facility where families of LeBonheur patients can stay completely free of charge.

Lincoln will get sicker the longer he waits for a heart. One of the reasons is that every single day he is outgrowing the surgically installed shunt that helps pump blood from one side of his heart to the other.

Another small child will die before Lincoln gets a heart. Because his chest cavity is small, the donor will need to be between two and five years old, plus other criteria will have to be met. In addition to this, Hopper said, more transplants will be needed in the future, as a transplanted heart typically lasts for about 10-15 years. As long as Lincoln is alive, he will need several medications twice daily to keep his body from rejecting the future hearts he receives.

When asked about what the family’s needs are, Hopper meekly said that he really hasn’t thought about it much and that their phones have been on the back burner. Both his dad and Cunningham’s mom are making frequent trips to Memphis to support the family as much as they can. Hopper said that he’d just bought a house in Dyer and that his new neighbor and friend Michael Roberson, pastor of Clear Creek Baptist Church, is planning to hold a dinner and silent auction at a location in Yorkville on Saturday, Oct.12, but that he didn’t yet know the details.

On Facebook, Kelli Horner Taylor, Hopper’s mother, has started a fundraiser called “Lincoln’s Medical Fundraiser” where anybody can go and donate towards the $5,000 goal.

Hopper said that the family would greatly appreciate everyone’s thoughts and prayers. Since they are away from home for what will be quite awhile, they aren’t fully aware of the community outreach, but Hopper said that anyone who is interested in finding out or helping in any way are encouraged and welcome to call his dad Scotty Hopper at 731-420-2919 for information.

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