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Marine's Son Gets a New Heart

March 13, 2003|From Staff and Wire Reports

A new heart for the critically ill son of a Marine who was deployed to the Middle East while his infant child awaited a transplant was located Wednesday, and the boy was quickly prepared for surgery.

The heart arrived at Loma Linda University Medical Center at 8:45 p.m., a university spokeswoman said.

Four-month-old Dillon Sellers was whisked off to surgery minutes later, and his mother, Betsy Sellers, 37, followed him to the operating room.

Surgery was expected to last four to six hours.

Dillon gained national attention after the Los Angeles Times reported that his father, Maj. Hal Sellers, was forced to decide between duty to family and country.

Sellers, 37, said goodbye to his son and left for the Middle East more than two weeks ago.

Dillon was 10 days old when he was diagnosed Oct. 31 with hypoplastic left heart syndrome, which renders the heart unable to pump or circulate blood.

Although the condition can often be corrected with surgery, doctors said Dillon's heart was too damaged.

A transplant was declared to be his only option.

It was not immediately disclosed who the donor of the organ was.

"They didn't tell me anything, just that they had a heart and a team was going to get it," Sellers said earlier Wednesday.

"The heart's here," she said minutes after her beeper went off in the waiting room of the hospital's children's wing in the San Bernardino County town of Loma Linda.

The boy had been at the top of the medical center's heart transplant list.

Sellers said the Marine Corps had attempted to tell her husband of the surgery Wednesday night, but she didn't know if the effort to reach him was successful.

"They sent him an e-mail," she said. "I guess they're trying to call him too.... I hope he hears soon."

As the family struggled with Dillon's diagnosis, Hal Sellers was offered a desk job at the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center in the desert town of Twentynine Palms.

But the 13-year veteran is second in command of the 3rd Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion and had trained for months to help lead the Middle East mission. His wife said that, ultimately, he was concerned about bringing in a new member so late in the training.

As she settled in for a long wait at the hospital, Dillon's mother, accompanied by several Marine Corps representatives, had several bags of mail from well-wishers to read.

One of the letters came with a teddy bear that she planned to give her son after the operation.

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