After 3 Years, Girl Needs New Heart Donor

Associated Press

A new heart is needed by a 17-year-old girl whose body is rejecting the heart of a friend that was transplanted into her after his unexpected death three years ago.

Donna Ashlock has been treated for 10 episodes of organ rejection since she received the heart of her classmate, Felipe Garza Jr., her father said, so her doctors are seeking a new donor for another transplant.

“They had a new heart they were going to give her last Thursday night, but it didn’t match,” Ray Ashlock said Tuesday at their home in this Central California farming town.


Donna Ashlock’s case became famous because of the circumstances surrounding the heart that has been beating in her body since January, 1986.

Garza, a 15-year-old who had a crush on Ashlock, knew that she had a degenerative heart disease and would not live much longer without a transplant.

Although he had not been ill, Garza told his parents, farm workers, that he wanted his heart donated to her after his death. A short time later on Jan. 4, 1986, he died unexpectedly when a blood vessel burst in his brain.

As Garza wished, his friend, then 14, received his heart in an operation at Pacific Presbyterian Medical Center in San Francisco. Patterson’s City Council named a park in the boy’s honor. The family has since moved away from the community.

Ashlock has had to return to the hospital 75 miles northwest of her home often since the operation for organ rejection treatment and check-ups.

Rejection Common

Hospital spokeswoman Nancy Millhouse said it is fairly common for a body to reject a transplanted organ. “In 5% to 10% of the cases, there is chronic rejection. She’s been through a lot and she’s handled herself well.”

Ray Ashlock said his medical insurance as a city employee did not cover all the $500,000 cost of Donna’s initial operation, and bills for treatment and transportation have mounted since, leaving him wondering if he can ever pay off all of his daughter’s medical bills.

“We’ve got some bills that are $35,000 a whack,” he said.

Donna Ashlock, who turns 18 on April 1, is anxiously awaiting another heart.

“I think I’ll be better off with a new one,” said the teen-ager, who studies at home since her condition keeps her from attending regular classes at Patterson High School. She will graduate this spring if she can stay well enough to maintain her grades.

She hopes to go to college and become a nurse, not because she has had so many nurses care for her, but because “I like helping people and stuff.”