"Well, I don't have to avoid you any longer," Dr. Juan Alejos replied. "We have a heart."
Nicole Draper, 32, looked down at her round-cheeked baby and into his soft gray eyes. "Nick, there's a heart for you," she said. "A heart, Nick. A heart."
All at once, the world around Nick stepped into a carefully choreographed, exquisitely intense, enormously dangerous dance. He was at the center. During heart transplant surgery, nothing is certain. Most heart transplants are successful, but things can go wrong, very wrong.
Nick's new heart refused to beat strongly or regularly. When the surgery ended, instead of sewing him up and starting him on his way to a normal life, doctors left his chest open and attached tubes from the inside to a heart-lung bypass machine to keep him alive.
That was Thursday. Since then, Nick has been in critical condition, sprawled on his back in intensive care at UCLA Medical Center.
On Saturday, his heartbeat gained a bit of strength. It gained a bit more Sunday. A bit more Monday. Then, Tuesday morning, the doctors eased him off the bypass machine. His heart pumped well. Nick Draper was on his own.
If he kept this up, eventually they could close his chest, and he would be on his way to recovery. "I'm cautiously optimistic he is going to follow through and do well," said Dr. Mark Plunkett, who performed the transplant. "The next 24 to 48 hours are very important. The further out we get, the better. The likelihood, though, is this is going to work out."
That was good news for Nick's mother and for his father, Mike Draper, 33. But there was another Draper baby, Nick's identical twin brother, Nate. He needed a new heart too. The family prayed for one. If and when one became available, the Drapers knew they would have to go through all of this all over again.
At first, it had been pure joy.
Nicole hung up from Dr. Alejos, the cardiologist overseeing the twins' care, and punched her husband's number into the cellphone. "They have a heart, honey. A heart."
Mike Draper brought Caitlin, 6, and Brendan and Emma, also twins, 5, to the hospital. Nick took turns snuggling in the arms of his sisters and big brother. Then his father propped him up on a pillow, held his hand and whispered: "You're gonna be home, yeah. Gonna be home. They're bringing you a new heart, and you're gonna get better, little buddy."
Home was Phoenix. Nick and Nate were flown to Los Angeles in July after doctors in Arizona diagnosed dilated cardiomyopathy, which meant the left and right sides of their hearts were in a cross-shaped jumble. The boys would die, the doctors said, if they did not get new hearts. Nick would get one first, because in the beginning Nate had been too sick for a transplant. By the time Nate was healthy enough, Nick was at the top of the list.
Shortly after they arrived in L.A., The Times began telling their story.
Now two high priests of the family's Mormon faith came to the hospital room, where both babies had beds. Everyone gathered in a circle. Nick nestled quietly in his mother's arms, and Nate in his father's. One high priest poured oil atop Nick's head. "Nicholas Gregory Draper," the other said, "we bless you that your body will have the strength to recover and you will get better quickly . "
As the family prayed, a team of doctors from UCLA flew to a city five hours away to pick up Nick's new heart. Where exactly the Drapers did not know. By law, the location and name of the donor, a child, were confidential. The doctors had to make sure the new heart was healthy and small enough to fit into Nick's chest.
At about midnight, a nurse telephoned.