CONYERS | Erin's heart: The best Valentine's gift ever

7:43 AM, Feb 15, 2012   |    comments
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Erin McLeod got a heart transplant for Valentine's Day

DECATUR, Ga. -- It was a Valentine's Day like no other for Erin McLeod.

Even though the 13-year-old Conyers resident spent the day in the hospital, the gift she received changed her life.

She received a heart. Not a chocolate heart, but a real heart.

Erin had heart transplant surgery Monday at Children's Healthcare of Atlanta and even though she is tired, she has a new lease on life. "I'm just happy it's over," she said.

And so are her parents, Danny and Amy McLeod, who had been waiting for more than a month to find out if a heart was available for their daughter. The good news came Monday morning.

"We got the call that they had the heart and they were going to do surgery, so we were excited," said Danny McLeod.

"I'm calling it happy heart day from now on," said Amy McLeod. "We kind of joked about it while waiting and then it was just perfect."

Photo Gallery: Erin McLeod

It has been a long journey for Erin, a 7th grader at Excel Christian Academy in Conyers. Last March she was diagnosed with the cancer osteosarcoma in her right leg. She started treatment for the cancerous bone tumor at the AFLAC Cancer Center and Blood Disorders Service of Children's Healthcare. Erin underwent 18 rounds of chemotherapy and surgery to remove the tumor. She became cancer-free on December 7, 2011.

But the cancer treatment took a toll on her heart, and it failed her. Erin was experiencing symptoms of cardiomyopathy. She had shortness of breath and chest pains.

"Her heart was performing at one-fifth of what it needed to do," said Dr. Bill Mahle, a pediatric cardiologist. "She most certainly would have progressed and died."

"For a little while we thought, we thought we might lose her," said Danny McLeod.

Erin was listed for a heart transplant in late January 2012. On February 13, 2012, one day before Valentine's Day, a heart was available.

"I got the call and actually I was in disbelief," Danny McLeod said.

When it was Valentine's Day, Erin had a new heart, and new strength.

"She said, I can't believe how great I feel today," Dr. Mahle said. "Can I get some Zaxby's?"

Dr. Mahle said Erin's prognosis is good, even though there is a chance her body could reject the heart and her cancer could return. But right now, her life is moving forward.

"We're just glad she's made it through and it's going to get better," her father said. "It's a great day."

It's a great Valentine's Day that will never be matched.

You can follow Erin's progress and recovery at Caring Bridge.

You can follow Kevin on Twitter @kgrowson.

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