Brave New Bedford Boy Scores Life-Saving Heart Transplant
From the moment New Bedford Police Officer Shane Harris met JJ Montalban, the two of them just clicked.
"He's my best friend," Harris says.
JJ was diagnosed with congenital heart disease at birth. That day alone, he had three heart surgeries.
JJ and Police: The Beginning of a Bond
Three years ago, Harris heard that JJ had a wish. The little boy wanted to meet a police officer more than anything else. The two became quick friends, playing with remote control cars in front of JJ's home. Harris bought the boy drums for Christmas. Earlier this year, JJ was named an honorary New Bedford police officer.
Always looming, however, was the growing problem of JJ's heart.
The Montalbams have been waiting years for a donor.
Two weeks ago, JJ's mom Angelie texted Harris to let him know that JJ was off the heart transplant list because they were going to take another route.
JJ only had a 20% chance to find a suitable donor, and more immediate action was needed.
Instead of a heart transplant, the plan was to implant artificial heart valves into the 5-year-old. Unfortunately, after some pre-surgery testing, JJ's pressure didn't meet the minimum requirements, and the heart valve surgery plan was scrapped.
"This lady is amazing," Harris says of JJ's mother. "Through the whole thing, she's always stayed positive, putting her faith in God to come through."
She wasn't worried at all. She knew God would be there for JJ.
'A Match for JJ'
Last week, she called Harris.
"You're not going to believe this," she said. "They found a match for JJ."
The veteran New Bedford police officer admits he broke down into instant tears of joy.
As soon as they located the heart, they rushed JJ up to Boston Children's Hospital for surgery. In fact, the family got a door-to-door escort from the Massachusetts State Police.
"He wasn't even in his car seat because he was so excited," Harris says. "He loved watching the blue lights."
JJ's heart transplant happened early last week. His surgeons and cardiologist hope that this transplant will do the trick and that JJ will live a relatively normal life.
The boy continues to recover in Boston. His tubes are out, his eyes are open and he is awake.
"Things are going really well for him," Harris says.