At just six weeks old, Hunter Ratcliffe made history.
Just hours after birth, Hunter’s family learned he was born with a congenital heart defect called hypoplastic left heart syndrome (HLHS), which meant the left side of Hunter’s heart was missing and couldn’t pump oxygen-rich blood to the body properly. The condition affects about one in every 4,000 babies each year, according to the CDC. For some HLHS patients, medicine and surgery may help, but after several procedures, Hunter’s medical team decided to put him on the heart transplant list.
On June 19, 1995, he received the first heart transplant at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital.
Although he may not remember the milestone moment, Hunter has many memories from the hospital. As an adolescent, he had to return when doctors believed his body was rejecting his heart. He spent several days in the hospital having breathing treatments but remembers some exciting moments, such as meeting wrestler, Macho Man Randy Savage. Perhaps it was a visit from Tampa Bay Buccaneers players that fueled his love of football.
After talking with his cardiologist, Alfred Asante-Korang, M.D., he was finally able to fulfill his dream playing on his high school football team as a kicker. His advice to other heart patients: Don’t give up. “Don’t let heart disease hold you back,” Hunter said. “You may have some limitations, but you can do almost anything you want to accomplish.”
At 21 years old, Hunter remains a lifelong patient at the Johns Hopkins All Children’s Heart Institute and still sees Asante-Korang.
Hunter now has a family of his own and feels lucky to have a healthy daughter, with no heart problems. Although he knows another heart transplant may be needed in the future, he continues to stay positive and advocates for organ donation.
“I wouldn’t be here today if it wasn’t for my organ donor and hope others become organ donors to save lives,” Hunter adds. “It makes me feel anxious. I know it will be a long process, but I know at the end of it all, it will be like having a brand new engine and give me the motivation to get what I want done with my life and make my daughter’s life better.”
He says he always has felt right at home at the hospital adding that people still recognize him and stop to chat and recall stories of him as a baby. “They’ve taken care of me ever since I was born,” Hunter says, “and even as an adult they continue to see me, and it’s such a strong relationship that’s been bonded and I wouldn’t want to go anywhere else."