JUNEAU (AP) -- Chrysantha Bradley got an early Christmas present Dec. 2 in the form of new heart. Just six months later, the Juneau-Douglas High School sophomore has recovered well enough to compete in sports.
Chrysantha, called Santa by her family and friends, will be part of the U.S. Transplant Games that begin Wednesday in Orlando, Fla. She will play setter for Team Oregon and Washington during the coed volleyball competition.
''I love watching volleyball,'' Chrysantha told the Juneau Empire, ''but not as much as playing it.''
Chrysantha gave up volleyball two years ago when she developed cardiomyopathy, a viral infection that enlarges the heart. As an eighth-grader, Chrysantha was a team captain and starting setter for her middle school team. She quit when she lost her strength.
''I was bred into playing volleyball,'' Chrysantha said. ''My dad, my mom, my aunt, my uncle and all kinds of different people in our families here and in Hawaii play volleyball.''
''I'm getting it back, very slowly,'' she said. ''I still need to work. I was really good. I used to do 500 sets with a volleyball and 500 sets with a basketball three times a day, before I got sick. I can't set a basketball yet.''
As she waited at the University of Washington Medical Center last November, her family feared she would not see Christmas without the operation.
''That was a bad time,'' said her father, Ray Bradley. ''She would not have been here if she hadn't gotten that transplant. I'm just amazed at how far she's come. To walk from here to that door (a distance of about 25 feet) to go to the restroom took a big effort. There's no doubt in my mind she would have died.''
''One day it was just really hard to sit up in bed,'' Chrysantha said. ''I didn't feel bad. I just felt tired. One thing with this disease is it slowly kills you.''
Following her transplant, Chrysantha was out of intensive care within three days and out of the hospital within 10. She returned to Juneau in March. Now she walks on a treadmill for an hour every day and is starting to mix jogging into her routine.
Bill Thornton, coordinator of the Minority Organ Tissue Transplant Education Program in Anchorage, said it's not uncommon for heart transplant recipients to return to an active life soon after their transplant. If there was no major damage to the arteries, it doesn't take long for the body to recover once the new heart is transplanted into the system, Thornton said.
Chrysantha takes about 50 pills a night to keep her body from rejecting the new heart, medication that costs up to $2,500 a month. One of those pills is a steroid, Prednazone, which helps her hold onto her weight while the body adjusts.
While Chrysantha recovers, the Bradley family is bracing for another heart transplant watch.
Chrysantha's 29-year-old brother, Ray Jr., has suffered from cardiomyopathy for six years. He had been on a heart transplant waiting list until his condition stabilized with medication. The family expects he'll probably be back on the waiting list within three or four years.
''My dad and my brother both died of heart failure, and probably seven other relatives have died from the same symptoms,'' said the elder Ray Bradley. He believes they all had cardiomyopathy, a condition recognized only since 1969.
Chrysantha hopes that by competing in the transplant games that she'll promote organ donation in Alaska.
More than 45,000 Americans are waiting for kidney transplants, according to United Network for Organ Sharing, and more than 4,000 need new hearts. Only a quarter to half of the people on waiting lists last year received transplants.
The U.S. Transplant Games feature competition in track and field, cycling, basketball, bowling, swimming, tennis, volleyball and other sports.
San Antonio Spurs forward Sean Elliott, who last summer had a kidney transplant, and National Basketball Association Hall-of Famer Oscar Robertson, who donated a kidney to his daughter, are expected to attend the games.
The only other Alaskan competing is Anchorage bowler Burnett Schultz, who had a kidney transplant in 1995.
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