Teenage heart transplant recipient remembered

Posted: Friday, June 20, 2003

Ray Bradley has lost 15 family members, including his father and brother, to a genetic heart ailment. But the hardest loss came earlier this month when his teenage daughter Chrysantha died of cardiac arrest.

Chrysantha had a heart transplant in 1999 and suffered some setbacks, but appeared to be well in the weeks before her June 5 death at age 18.

"It was a total shock," said Bradley, who noted Chrysantha passed a checkup in April. "It is a major loss. It will take a long time to get over, for the healing process to begin."

Chrysantha was diagnosed with cardiomyopathy, or congestive heart failure, when she was 12. She had a heart transplant when she was 14 and became seriously ill two years later when her body's immune system reacted to a virus and began rejecting the new organ.

"We learned to watch those signals, but this time there were no signals," said Bradley.

Juneau rallied behind Chrysantha around the time of the transplant. Medical bills were extensive and her parents said local residents played the role of an extended family.

"We are very thankful for all the help we got from the Juneau community," said Bradley.

The family also received considerable help from the Make-A-Wish Foundation, which grants the wishes of children with terminal and life-threatening medical conditions. Make-A-Wish sent Chrysantha and her family to Hawaii for two weeks.

"Make-A-Wish really helped her with the transition of waiting for a heart," said Bradley.

Chrysantha recovered quickly from her 1999 transplant.

"So young at 14, having a heart transplant, she was so happy to get home and try to get on with her life," said Bradley. "There was a constant struggle of wanting to move out. She wanted to finish school, go on to college and go do things on her own."

Just seven months after her transplant, Chrysantha won a bronze medal from the volleyball competition at the U.S. Transplant Games in Orlando, Fla. There she was recognized as the most recent transplant recipient competing in the games and given a standing ovation.

Chrysantha's middle name, Kamalani Ka O'hana, means "Flower Princess of the Family," a Hawaiian name her parents felt suited her well.

"She was always smiling and always happy," said Bradley. "She'll be with us in our memories and the things that she liked."

He father said she was a strong-willed, creative teenager and an avid debater and writer. She was a member of the Rainbow Girls, a nonprofit, Masonic youth service organization, and volunteered with Life Alaska, a tissue- and organ-donor program.

Chrysantha's family said they feel fortunate she received a heart transplant.

"At least we were able to have her a little longer, to enjoy her smiles and have her with us," said her mother, Tina Bradley.

After Chrysantha's death, her family decided on a celebration of life rather than a memorial service. Younger brother, Alika, 16, was the DJ for the June 14 event. The family want people to remember Chrysantha doing things she enjoyed.

The next step for Tina and Ray Bradley is focusing on the health of their eldest son, Ray Jr., who was diagnosed with dilated cardiomyopathy in 1994.

"He needs a transplant," said Ray Bradley. "There is such a need for transplant organs now, you'd really have to be bad to get one."

Ray Bradley was scheduled to meet with a cardiologist in Seattle today to further discuss the cause of Chrysantha's death, which he said was a surprise to many of her doctors. He said finding the cause of his daughter's death could help doctors treat his son's condition.

"Chrysantha will be with us here and here," Ray Bradley said, pointing to his head and then to his heart.

• Kim Andree can be reached at nrclerk@juneauempire.com.



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