The Gift of Life: A 27 News special report - WKOW 27: Madison, WI Breaking News, Weather and Sports

The Gift of Life: A 27 News special report

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MADISON (WKOW) -- April is National Donate Life month, a time to highlight the importance of organ donation.

Two local families know the importance of organ donation all too well.

At their 20 week ultrasound, Katie and Justin Dencker found out their baby had serious heart defects.

"I couldn't believe it. I remember we took a walk afterward and I just wanted to shut everyone out," says Katie. "There were many, many nights just staring up at the ceiling thinking 'What's gonna happen? Is he gonna be with us? Is he not gonna make it?"

He did make it.
 
Michael was welcomed into the world February 3, 2012.

He had a hole in his heart and his ventricles, pulmonary artery and aorta were out of place.

After a few days in intensive care, he was sent home.

Katie says, "They thought at that point that he wouldn't need any surgery until a full heart transplant at age 30."

Three months later, Michael's heart began failing.

Surgery at American Family Children's Hospital in Madison was necessary to keep him alive.

"The first surgery he had tied a band around the artery going to the lungs, the pulmonary artery," says Michael's doctor, Amy Peterson. "The next surgery he had was to attach the veins draining blood out of his head to his pulmonary arteries."

All of this, before his first birthday.

"It blows my mind that that little body could go through so much," says his mom."They actually did open heart surgery on his heart that was so so small. To know that  happened is just crazy."

"I'm a better person and a stronger person because of what he's had to go through," says his dad Justin.

Michael is now a vibrant and loving two year old.
 
He was prince of the American Heart Association's Heart Ball in Madison this year, an organization that's research and technology played a big role in his diagnosis and treatment.

Michael should lead a normal childhood with a few restrictions.

Doctors at UW saved his life.

But his story is just one of many stories of survival here in Madison.

UW is one of the leading hospitals in the nation when it comes to the number of  transplants performed, including heart transplants.

Last year 26 people were saved through the gift of a heart at the hospital.

It's a gift that one local woman received, after more than a decade of fighting for her life.

In 2001, Carol Wright had a heart attack.

She was in her early 40's when her battle began.

Doctors implanted a defibrillator that would shock her periodically to keep her heart in rhythm..

"It is the worst feeling. It's as if you go to the moon and you explode and all you see is white."

Over the years her heart also began to fail and she was put on the waiting list for a heart transplant.

"They.said that I wasn't gonna make it. I was very near death."

Doctors at UW didn't give up on Carol and neither did her family.

"They were by my side the entire time, even when I was losing hope."

More than 12 years later, a miracle.

Carol was getting a new heart, remarkable news for her son Jeff.

"When I got that call, it's really very difficult to describe. It was incredibly surreal."

She had the surgery at UW hospital March 6 of this year.

"I must be the luckiest person, the luckiest person. A person who has been blessed because it's been 12.5 years," says Carol.

It's now just a couple months after surgery.

Carol is healthy and returning to life as it once was.

"I'm breathing like a normal person, which I haven't felt in 12.5 years! I'm gonna lead a normal life."

For her four kids and husband of 34 years, they have Mom back.

"I'm still pinching myself every now and again and I can't believe this dream has come true," says Jeff.

The miracle of modern medicine kept Carol alive, thanks to a donor.

"I am always going to be grateful for that, that I actually received a gift."

It's a gift Michael Dencker will one day need, too.

Doctors say his heart will eventually fail, and he will probably need a heart transplant as an adult.

But for now, he can just be a kid.

"We are so lucky. He's home, he's ok. It's not over yet, and we do have some challenging times. But we're really, really lucky," says Katie.

There are more than 2,500 people on the waiting list for an organ transplant in Wisconsin.

79 of them are waiting for a heart.

For more information on organ, tissue and eye donation, and how to register to be a donor, click here.

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