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Keyes girl gets new heart as life ends for Hughson boy
Shelby in hospital
Clutching onto a stuffed toy dog, Keyes girl Shelby Nicole Christopher rests in a UCLA Medical Center room after receiving a new heart on Saturday evening. Her family is elated at the recent answer to being on the waiting list but sad that another child died to make it happen. - photo by Contributed to the Courier

Shelby Nicole Christopher finally has a new heart and is recovering nicely in a Los Angeles hospital.

The family of the 10-year-old Keyes fourth-grader learned on Saturday morning that a donor heart became available and rushed into transportation mode to get her to Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center in Los Angeles. They loaded up in a car at 10 a.m. and drove to Southern California. At around 8:30 p.m. Shelby underwent the six-hour surgery to remove her defective heart and replace it with a donor heart from another child. It was pumping in her heart after midnight Sunday.

Shelby was born with a defective heart, suffering from Hypoplastic Left Heart Syndrome (HLHS), which affects normal blood flow through the heart. The condition caused Shelby to be short of breath, tire easily and gave her lips and extremities a bluish tint.

"She's doing wonderfully," said her aunt, Kirsten Crarry of Ceres. "She's been feeling better and sitting up in bed more. She's still having some pain but they're trying to keep it under control. She has her appetite back and eating well. She is no longer blue in color like she was before. So far so good. I mean they need to be careful watching for rejection and infection so she's still not completely out of the woods but so far she's just a trooper and everything's looking really good."

A support group of four are with Shelby - her father and "bonus mom" Donald Christopher and Autumn Neill, her mother Mellissa Crarry and grandmother Glenda Coleman of Chowchilla.

The family was both happily surprised and saddened at the news since another child had to die to make the transplant happen.

"It was hard to believe this was happening and it sort of sunk in that someone else has lost their child and so there was a mixture of excitement and fear and sadness - sadness for the grieving family," said Kirsten Crarry. "And obviously excitement of us of what's to come and be able to see Shelby healthy. And fear of the unknown of what comes with that big of a surgery and what lies ahead for our family."

While the Keyes family is rejoicing at the positive turn of events, the community of Hughson is grieving the loss of Morgan Thornsberry, 7, who died Thursday after suffering head injuries in a Saturday evening, Sept. 26 accident. It's believed that the Hughson first-grader was on an ATV or golf cart when it crashed during a wedding held on private property on Leedom Road north of Hughson.

Morgan had been hospitalized in critical condition at U.C. Davis Medical Center in Sacramento until he passed on Thursday. The family had asked for prayers, particularly at 8 a.m. when doctors would be determining if Morgan brain dead.

After learning of the boy's accident, community members in Hughson gathered to pray and sing hymns in front of Hughson Elementary School on Tuesday, Sept. 29. Town folk and others donated approximately $30,270 to support the family through the Prayers for Morgan gofundme page.

Morgan's parents, Kasey and Shandea, posted a message on the fundraising website that read: "We cannot thank you enough for all of the prayers and support throughout this week for our family while we are going through this. The Lord chose to take our sweet, beautiful Mr. Morgan to heaven this morning. Our hearts are aching with grief but we know that the Lord is in control and his timing is perfect, even if we don't understand.

"We ask for continued prayer for us as we navigate through the days ahead. As many people know, one of Morgan's favorite sayings was ‘watch this' as he would show us what he had accomplished. We have been praying for a miracle and while God did not give us the miracle we were asking for, he is going to use Morgan as a miracle for others. Our amazing boy is going to say ‘watch this' one more time as he is going to be donating his organs in hopes of allowing other children to be able to go home with their families. We believe that God promotes the sanctity of life so we ask now that you will lift up the transplant process and allow the donor recipients to accept the gifts that Morgan will be giving. Thank you from the bottom of our hearts again for the support and prayers. We are proud to be from Hughson and have been amazed by you all. Love you all."

Morgan's gofundme page included a $35 donation from Shelby's mother, who wanted to put the fundraising amount over $30,000. She wrote: "My daughter is in surgery right now getting a heart and rumor is that it is Morgan's heart. If it is true I cannot thank you and your family enough for your selfless generosity. If it is not true I heard you are allowing Morgan to give life to others and that in itself is amazing. I am very sorry for your loss but there is no doubt in my mind that Morgan has a special place in heaven."

"Yes, there's a rumor going around but we have not been able to confirm that at all," said Kirsten Crarry.

Doctors are not obliged to reveal the identity of the organ donor unless either the family of the donor or recipient agrees to make it known.

The news of Shelby's surgery quickly spread throughout Keyes and many feel it was an answer to prayer. Only 2,300 heart transplants occur annually in the United States and Shelby had been on the waiting list for a new heart since August 2013.

"We are very happy," said Jeff Reed, a member of the Keyes School Board who helped coordinate fundraising for the family. "She has a healthy color now. She's always been blue or purple. She could never run without running out of breath but now she'll be able to do anything. The whole community has rallied around Shelby. Everybody knows Shelby and they all feel like she is their daughter."

To ready for the transplant and the need to stay close to the hospital for three to six months, the community of Keyes helped to raise over $10,000 to pay for lodging and expenses. The expenses help Donald Christopher while he cannot produce an income as he stays close to his ailing daughter. Shelby will be in the hospital for several weeks. The family will be able to stay in the Ronald McDonald House but there is a cost for a long-term stay.

Earlier this year the Keyes Elementary Student Council collected spare coinage in a Pennies for Patients drive and paper money from students. That effort raised about $5,100, Reed said. A campaign pulled in about $2,100.

Shelby Nicole lives in Keyes with her five siblings and her father.

A new gofundme page has been set up for Shelby to allow anyone to donate. It may be found by searching for "Shelby's Miracle Heart Transplant" or go to at