Faith, luck help girl battle heart ailment
By MONIQUE FIELDS
© St. Petersburg Times, published April 29, 2001
LARGO -- J. W. Honeysucker was shopping for medical insurance for his 15-year-old daughter, Jasmine, when the worst possible scenario happened.
Late last year, Jasmine suffered from headaches that medication couldn't ease. A persistent cough followed and she tired easily. Jasmine and her parents thought she had a bad cold.
They were wrong.
A trip to the emergency room on Dec. 8 revealed her cold had turned into viral pneumonia, which weakened her heart. With congestive heart failure looming, she would need a heart transplant right away.
But there was a problem. Without medical insurance, Jasmine's family would face a transplant bill of more than $171,000.
"What are we going to do?" said her mother, Cynthia Honeysucker. "We can't afford it."
It is a common refrain among parents who suddenly find themselves taking care of a child who is seriously ill. The Honeysuckers, like many parents, were left with few options.
As a full-time pastor at Bethany C.M.E Church, a small Clearwater church, Honeysucker is insured but not his wife and daughter. Buying a separate policy was an expensive proposition. He makes $522 a week while insurance premiums averaged $400 a month.
Moreover, his wife can't work because she has an enlarged heart. Recently, mother and daughter vetoed his getting a second job for fear they would never see him.
The state has a safety net called Children's Medical Services that broke part of their financial fall. Jasmine received a heart transplant on Feb. 24 with the help of the medical program.
Her parents, though, have to pick up expenses the program doesn't cover and are $32,000 in debt, with more medical bills on the way.
So today the Upper Pinellas County Interdenominational Choir will try to put a dent in that figure with a 4 p.m. gospel concert in Jasmine's honor at St. John Missionary Baptist Church, 1500 Pennsylvania Ave. Organizers will accept donations for Jasmine and her family as eight Clearwater choirs perform.
It will be a rare trip for Jasmine who wears a surgical mask each day to limit exposure to germs and bacteria. On doctor's orders, she will attend the event only for a few minutes.
The Largo High School sophomore hasn't been to school since December and can't strain her new heart by playing the clarinet, twirling a flag or singing in the church choir. She takes more than 30 pills a day with side effects that give her mood swings, depress her immune system and promote the growth of facial hair.
"It's been a major adjustment for a child who was pretty much very active," J.W. Honeysucker said.
She attends school at home through the Pinellas County Schools Hospital Homebound Program. Sometimes she dials up her class and listens in from home. Other times, teachers make house calls.
"I miss being with my friends and after-school activities with the band and color guard," Jasmine said last week.
If all goes well, she may be able to return to Largo High when school resumes in the fall.
Doctors say what happened to Jasmine could have happened to anyone. A heart may become inflamed and then return to normal. In about one in 1,000 cases, the inflammation persists and permanently damages the heart, which is unable to pump enough oxygen to the body, said Dr. Alfred Asante-Korang, a cardiologist at All Children's Hospital.
The first six months after a transplant are crucial. The longer the new heart is in place, the better the chances the body will accept the organ. Jasmine is only a third of the way there.
Her body started rejecting the heart shortly after it was transplanted. Fluid built up in her lungs and around her heart. She complained of shortness of breath. Doctors brought the problem under control. Last week, they kept watch on her heart with a mini-heart monitor. She also returns to All Children's Hospital in St. Petersburg twice a week for blood work and a checkup. She will lead a normal life, Korang said, but she will have to take two anti-rejection medicines for the rest of her life.
Jasmine's illness -- and recovery -- haven't been by the book.
It usually takes at least six months to find a heart donor. Those in need of transplants have waited as long as two years. Each year, some patients die waiting.
Jasmine waited one week, one hour and 10 minutes.
She was admitted into Tampa General Hospital for about two weeks in preparation for the transplant. There, she was put on a waiting list.
Cynthia Honeysucker looked at her daughter. Something about her was sad, tired.
"Baby, I sure wish I could take this from you," she said.
"What God has for me is for me. It's for me. It's not for you," came the reply from Jasmine.
Three days later, the two of them were sitting in the room when Jasmine said: "Lord, please send me a heart."
It was 6:30 p.m. Feb. 23. Five months had passed since the headaches and coughing started interrupting her sleep.
She hadn't been to school in three months, and her family was prepared to wait several more months for a healthy heart.
An hour and 10 minutes later, the transplant coordinator entered the room. She said the doctors had found a potential heart. It was in Daytona and needed to be brought to Tampa.
Joy filled the room.
At 11:50 p.m., the heart was 45 minutes away. By 1 a.m., Jasmine was in surgery receiving her new heart from someone in their 20s.
The family believes the entire scenario -- from request to delivery -- was a godsend. Asante-Korang, their doctor, calls it luck.
An hour after Jasmine's surgery, she was sitting up in her bed. She cupped her hand and waved it side to side.
Jasmine, who has been a member of Largo's homecoming court for two years in a row, was giving her mother the "princess wave."
She was in such good spirits in the days leading up to and following her surgery, nurses told the Honeysuckers their daughter was in "denial."
Her parents didn't see it that way. It was her trust in God, they said, that had given their daughter so much peace.
"All I did," Jasmine said, "was pray -- and wait."
If you go
The Upper Pinellas County Interdenominational Choir plans a gospel concert in Jasmine Honeysucker's honor at 4 p.m. today at St. John Missionary Baptist Church, 1500 Pennsylvania Ave. Organizers will accept donations for Jasmine and her family.
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