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Tis the season for gifts of love

By Sherri Ellington Five years ago on Dec. 6, Peytn Gotell, at just 6 months old, became a Christmas miracle when she received an emergency heart transplant. This year, to commemorate the fifth anniversary of her surgery, Peytn passed a little bit of that miracle on. At the suggestion of her parents Dexter and Judy Gotell, she donated her hair ‘“ which had never been cut before ‘“ to Locks of Love. ’It’ll be back long,’ said Peytn, now a rambunctious pre-K student at the primary school. ‘It’s going to come back and I can get a haircut again.’ Seemingly no different now than any other 5-year-old, except for the handful of pills she takes every morning and evening without complaint, Peytn will get to meet the little girl who will get her hair as a wig. ’We can pay it forward,’ said her father Dexter Gotell. ‘It’ll be a good thing to teach the kids.’ Peytn has three siblings, Aleigha Wilson, 17, Connor Gotell, 11, and Juliana, 3. ’She’s doing so well,’ said Gotell as his second daughter grabbed a cell phone and ran to her room, tapping the screen to produce music. ‘When they started doing heart transplants in babies, her outcome is what they were talking about.’ Peytn was diagnosed with dilated cardiomyopathy in October 2008 and placed on the transplant list in November. The heart arrived Dec. 6; Judy Gotell and her sister rode in the elevator with the technician who delivered it to the operating room at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta. ’He had our baby’s heart in a cooler. It was the size of a strawberry. Her original heart was the size of an adult’s,’ he said. ‘We don’t know the name of the donor but we call her heart Hope.’ Eleven days later the family, including Peytn, was at the Ronald McDonald House where she spent her first Christmas. ’She was sick near to death but she was always happy,’ he said. ‘When we walked into the recovery room she was sitting up and reaching for us. We just broke down. It was amazing.’ The Gotells plan to put in a request soon to meet the donor family. ’I hate for them to relive that but I want them to see what a big blessing it’s been for them to make their child a donor,’ he said. ‘It boosted our family into a whole other stratosphere. We’re more spiritual now. We couldn’t be happier or more impressed with what God does.’ Dexter and Judy tell their story to area churches, including the part about their decision to get married right before everything fell into place for a perfect transplant. ’We call it the God factor. They’re still trying to figure out how they did it,’ he said. ‘When God does it, you’re not supposed to be able to figure it out. She’s a daily miracle of God.’ The miracle started right away, quite literally. ’The doctor said they usually have to pump a transplanted heart to get it going,’ Gotell said. ’He said as soon as they connected the vessels it started beating on its own, like it was supposed to be there. He said that had happened only once in over 200 surgeries. It was special.’ Her only issue is a low immune system, he said. ’We deal with it and she deals with it. You can’t help but be inspired by that.’ ’Peytn is a real trooper. She doesn’t complain,’ even at monthly and yearly checkups, said Gotell. ’The doctors are blown away. She’s an exceptional child; they say it every time. A lot of heart transplant kids don’t thrive. We’re blown away daily.’ The Gotells were told Peytn would need another heart at age 15 or so, ‘but this angel of a nurse came to us and said, ‘˜who’s to say that?” he said. Who’s to say, indeed?

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