For 10-year-old Parker Bolton, the recipient of a heart transplant, there’s plenty of heart to go around

  • Ten-year-old Parker Bolton, the recipient of a heart transplant, sits in his hospital bed with his best friend Savannah Chagnon. Parker and his mother, Casey Bolton, drove from their home in Pittsfield to Washington, D.C., last month to speak to New Hampshire’s congressional delegation. —Courtesy

  • Parker Bolton, 10, and his mother, Casey Bolton, drove from their home in Pittsfield to Washington, D.C., last month to speak to New Hampshire’s congressional delegation. Parker is the recipient of a heart transplant. —Courtesy

  • Parker Bolton, 10, and his mother, Casey Bolton, drove from their home in Pittsfield to Washington, D.C., last month to speak to New Hampshire’s congressional delegation. Parker is the recipient of a heart transplant. Courtesy

  • Parker Bolton, 10, and his mother, Casey Bolton, drove from their home in Pittsfield to Washington, D.C., last month to speak to New Hampshire’s congressional delegation. Parker is the recipient of a heart transplant. —Courtesy

Monitor columnist
Published: 11/4/2019 5:45:35 PM

Parker Bolton has a strong heart. A caring one as well.

The heart in his chest is sending oxygen-rich blood and energy to his muscles and spirit like never before, 18 months after his transplant because of a congenital heart defect known as hypoplastic left heart syndrome. It means he was born without a left ventricle.

Meanwhile, his other heart, the symbolic one, taught him to be selfless and push for change. Now 10, he and his mother, Casey Bolton, drove from their home in Pittsfield to Washington, D.C., last month to speak to New Hampshire’s congressional delegation.

Maybe one day, Parker hoped, children and their families won’t have to endure what he and his parents have already been through: five open-heart surgeries, including that transplant, beginning at seven days old.

Why stop there? They want our representatives to restrict flavored tobacco to limit youth vaping. They want to end giant medical bills for care mistakenly thought to be covered by insurance. And they want more federal funding to research causes of and cures for heart disease.

“I had a fun trip,” Parker said via email, “and enjoyed knowing that I was trying to change things.”

Parker was up for the trip. He returned home last year after a 19-week hospital stay, and has grown strong enough to play in the backyard with his 175-pound Great Dane, Gunner, and his 100-pound German Shepherd, Kaiser. Parker weighs 69 pounds.

That’s his favorite activity, now that he feels better than ever.

“When he was in the hospital for months he did not miss his toys,” Casey said. “He missed his two dogs and that was the hardest thing for him. His energy level is more than when he had half a heart, so the whole heart has done him well.”

Added Parker, “I’m feeling great.”

We introduced Parker to readers in 2012 and again the following year. Back then, Casey and her husband, Concord High graduate Keith Bolton, were told their son had a 50 percent chance to live until 5 years old.

Parker was 3 when I first met him, then 4 for our followup meeting.

Yet there were no signs that something terrible hung over their living room like storm clouds. Parker’s endless smile helped create that positive climate.

With age 5 approaching and the future uncertain, their home was alive and loud, with Casey explaining her son’s condition and Parker playing with his siren-blasting fire engine and blinking 18-wheeler.

Through it all, Casey has been out front, the indomitable figure leading the charge. She’s a Pittsfield High School graduate who now works as a personal assistant for a local businessman.

She’s the one who stuffs folders with medical information – a 10-year process thus far – and says her collection has only “gotten bigger.”

Those folders include paperwork showing Parker’s medical history, and it was Casey who convinced the Legislature to adopt Parker’s Law in 2012.

The statute makes it mandatory for hospitals to pre-screen for the seven most critical congenital heart defects before newborns can be released. Parker didn’t have that luxury at birth, which is why doctors had to reconfigure his heart when he was 7 days old and follow up with another surgery 10 weeks later.

Parker had three open-heart surgeries by the age of 3, and had two more, including the transplant, 10 days apart in May of 2018. He had been on a waiting list for what seemed like forever when the family arrived at Boston Children’s Hospital on Feb. 21, 2018.

“We went initially because he had a cold and was not feeling well,” Casey said. “We got him checked out and learned he was in congestive heart failure. That means your heart is failing and you need more support.”

He’d have to wait for his new heart, however. Doctors spent eight hours inserting a ventricle assist device “to give his body a rest as we waited for the new heart,” Casey said via email. “We were told we were running out of time, and they were concerned he could crash at any time.”

A match was found just a few days after the eight-hour procedure. Doctors were willing to open up Parker again to perform the transplant, if Casey and Keith wanted them too, but Parker was still sore from the previous surgery. Was this a good idea?

Keith wondered.

Parker wondered.

Casey did not.

She maintained that this new heart should be pumping inside Parker as soon as possible.

“They’d usually un-list him so he could heal (from the previous surgery),” Casey said. “But there are not enough hearts to go around, so we had to do it. We didn’t have time and went for it. He was not in a good place. He really needed it.”

While Keith returned home to work a few days a week, Casey was able to work remotely and slept on a pull-out couch at the hospital the entire time. They got home on July 3, 132 days after they had first gotten to the hospital.

And when the American Heart Association asked Casey if she and Parker could help the cause, they jumped at the chance.

Then they drove to D.C.

“They asked us to share our story on Capitol Hill and we saw what they wanted was for the better and we were on board,” Casey told me.

They met with contacts representing Sens. Jeanne Shaheen and Maggie Hassan. They spoke personally to Rep. Annie Kuster.

Parker needed that new heart to make the trip. Casey said it could last 10 to 13 years “in a perfect world.” She knows he might need another transplant someday. A third is possible as well.

That other heart, though? The symbolic one that fueled his desire to help others?

That one isn’t going anywhere.

“I want to make things better,” Parker said.




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