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Local heart transplant recipient shares story at middle school

By: Kayla Dimick | C&G Newspapers | Published February 9, 2016

 Sullivan shares his story with Berkshire students.

Sullivan shares his story with Berkshire students.

Photo by Deb Jacques


BEVERLY HILLS — Viral video star Trevor Sullivan raised his selfie stick high as hundreds of students shaped their hands into hearts Feb. 2 at Berkshire Middle School to kick off their annual Hoops for Heart fundraising campaign for the American Heart Association.

Sullivan, 15, of Southfield, was the subject of a video showcasing him waking up from heart transplant surgery in November. The video has gained national attention and has garnered over 1 million views on YouTube.

It all began early last year, when Sullivan learned that he was in need of a heart transplant after battling a seemingly never-ending cold.

Sullivan’s father, Phillip Sullivan, said previously that he and his wife, Kimberly, didn’t expect that a stubborn cold would reveal that their son had an undiagnosed heart defect. He said his son was a relatively healthy young man and even played eighth-grade football at Berkshire.

After several trips to the doctor to try to defeat the cold, Phillip said, Sullivan was diagnosed in February 2015 with an enlarged heart, and it was determined that he needed a heart transplant.

“I thought I’d be home the next day,” Sullivan said at the assembly. “I got airlifted, actually, which they had to transport me in a helicopter to U of M hospital. So that was actually pretty cool. I’m not going to lie: Riding in a helicopter, it’s fun.”

Sullivan received the transplant in November 2015. Soon after, Phillip Sullivan posted the video of his son waking up from surgery on Gift of Life Michigan’s website, which is an organization aimed at maximizing organ and tissue donation for transplantation.

“We just wanted to bring awareness to being an organ donor,” Kimberly Sullivan said. “It also shows the donor families what happens after their loved one’s organs leave, and you know they go to the recipient and you see that outcome. I’ve heard positive feedback from them just to see the moment of somebody waking up — they’ve really appreciated it. ER nurses have appreciated it; nurses that work on procurement teams have appreciated it. We wanted to help with something, and it’s helped out on a bunch of different avenues.”

As a former Berkshire student and current Groves High School freshman, Sullivan helped the school usher in its annual fundraising campaign, Hoops for Heart, through the American Heart Association, which aims to reduce death from heart disease and stroke.

Interested students are asked to raise $15 for Hoops for Heart by Feb. 12. Those who meet the goal will be invited to play basketball in the gym for an hour during school. The AHA runs a similar event in elementary schools called Jump for Heart, in which students participate in various jump rope activities.

Amy Hobley, youth market director at the AHA, said that hopefully the fundraiser will inspire students to continue community service in the years to come.

“This is their way of getting their feet wet with community service,” Hobley said.

Physical education teacher Erin Lincoln said the school has been participating in the fundraiser for 10 years.

“In our 10 years we have been the top fundraising middle school in Michigan, which is pretty awesome,” Lincoln told the students. “We averaged it last year that over the years we’ve been doing this, we’ve raised more than $130,000 for the American Heart Association, and that’s all on you guys.”

During the assembly, Sullivan made a short speech about his journey to a new heart and took questions from the audience. He encouraged the students to keep their hearts healthy by staying physically active.

Berkshire Principal Jason Clinkscale said Sullivan was a natural choice for a speaker at the assembly.

“Last year, with Trevor being a student here, it really just hit home for us all to make us understand how this is real and how our funds directly impact the lives of not only our students, but of our greater community,” Clinkscale said.

One student asked Sullivan how life with a new heart was treating him.

“It’s really good. It’s really, really good, actually. I just live like any of you would — no restrictions, really. Just live your life regular,” he said.

Another asked how it felt to be in a viral video.

“I mean, it’s cool, for sure. But my video of me waking up — it went viral, and it’s pretty interesting because you realize your story is going everywhere, and you go to sleep at night and you wake up in the morning and you have like 1,000 notifications and you have to go through all of them. But it’s really cool to see yourself on TV, for sure.”

Kimberly Sullivan said her family was able to raise funds not covered by insurance thanks to tremendous support from the community through various fundraisers. Phillip Sullivan said previously that they are also trying to set aside some money for a future transplant down the road for Trevor, as his doctors said the current transplant will last him only about 15 years.

A student at the assembly asked if Trevor would ever have to get a new heart.

“The answer is yes and no, because medicine improves every day, and that’s why you guys are doing Hoops for Heart, so the money can go in and they can improve medicine, and who knows? Maybe I can be the first person who lived their whole life with a single transplant,” Sullivan said.

Sullivan said that in the long term, he plans on making more public speaking engagements to promote organ donation. For now, though, he just wants to succeed in ninth grade.