“To see him continuing to do so well nearly 22 years after his transplant has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my career,” pediatric cardiologist Janet Scheel

Kyle Atras was three months old when his mother noticed that he had trouble eating and was losing weight. After a visit to the pediatrician, a referral to a nearby hospital and a chest X-ray, the Atras family received devastating news. Kyle had an enlarged heart, a condition called dilated cardiomyopathy, marked by a severe thickening and weakening of the heart muscle.

Kyle was referred to Hopkins Children’s, where he was put on a heart-transplant waiting list and where at eight and half months old, he received a new heart.

LISTEN to Kyle's Story - Radiothon 2011

Fast forward 21 years and today Kyle is a senior at Hood College, captain of the school’s swim team with plans to attend the World Transplant Games in Sweden in June of 2011 and pursue a career in sports broadcasting after graduation.

Kyle’s swimming coach at Hood admires the senior’s tenacity and strength, and so do his teammates, who did not even realize Kyle had a heart transplant until they saw the scar on his chest. Kyle doesn’t get any special treatment either — he performs the same daily workouts as his teammates. 

Kyle enrolled in swimming classes at age 4 and started swimming competitively when he turned 8. He has been a regular participant in the World and U.S. transplant championships since 2000.

Kyle’s post-transplant course has been nothing short of amazing, but it hasn’t been smooth. He did well for a few years, but when he was in the fifth grade, he developed lymphoma as a result of his anti-rejection drugs, which work by suppressing the immune system to prevent it from attacking his new heart. He beat the lymphoma, but as a sophomore in high school, he developed autoimmune hemolytic anemia, again as a result of one of his anti-rejection medications. The condition resolved after he was put on a different drug.

Hopkins Children’s cardiologist Janet Scheel, who has followed Kyle since he was an infant awaiting a heart transplant and continues to see him every year, is one of his biggest fans.

“To see him continuing to do so well nearly 22 years after his transplant has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my career,” Scheel says. “He has weathered all the bumps on the road with a smile, determination and the support of his wonderful family.

“His medical problems have never been an excuse for taking the easy road and what he has accomplished is nothing short of amazing. I have every reason to believe he will continue to amaze us. Seeing him on my schedule always brings a smile to my face and lets me know it is going to be a good day.”