CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (WVIR) - In 2018, the University of Virginia Pediatrics Department performed 13 pediatric heart transplants. While risky and stressful, these transplants have given a new lease on life to children around Virginia.

Graham Lighthiser came into the world as an early Christmas gift to his parents last year. Born six weeks premature, he spent the first month of his life in a hospital and things were not getting better for him. 

Soon, doctors would tell Graham’s parents that their son needed a new heart.

“When something terrible happens, something beautiful can come from it and I know that when Graham coded, I just kept thinking ‘is there anything of his that we can donate’ because I wanted him to live on in some way,” said Graham’s mother Beth Lighthiser.

Graham was given a new heart at the UVA Medical Center and was one of the 13 children to be given one at UVA in 2018. On average, the department does nine transplants a year.

“80 percent of kids that need to have a heart transplant receive an organ in time,” said Director of Heart Failure and Transplant in Pediatrics at UVA Thomas L’Ecuyer. “It’s better than that in adults when we have better devices to keep the family heart supported, but we don’t have that quite as much in pediatrics.”

L’Ecuyer’s dream is for all the children who need a transplant to get one. He says young children recover almost entirely after the surgery.

“Some of them will have a little bit of development delay and have physical challenges,” L’Ecuyer said. “Their quality of life is fantastic and almost all of them are in age-appropriate grades in school.”

With the surgery behind them, Graham’s mother has just one more wish for the future.

“I hope that someday we do get to meet his donor family and that they get to feel a little bit of peace at knowing that their child lives on through him,” Lighthiser said.

Now, Graham is a happy and healthy baby. He and his parents have a doctor’s visit every month, but say they couldn’t be happier.