New Kent High School sophomore Juan Mikel-Jones is home and recovering from heart transplant surgery. He’s itching to get back to school and participate in junior varsity wrestling and football again.
But first things first. Juan said he feels good and travels with his dad twice a week to see the doctor and take physical and occupational therapy at University of Virginia Hospital in Charlottesville.
The 16-year-old said he wants to go back to school as soon as possible, which is likely still a few months away.
Juan received a heart transplant on Jan. 24 after doctors discovered he had viral cardiomyopathy, a serious heart condition, and determined he needed a new heart.
Juan had cold-like symptoms after Thanksgiving and eventually went to the hospital, recalled his father, Woodrow “Woody” Jones.
“He was vomiting, had stomach issues and had this crazy cough,” Jones said. “The cough sounded like a whooping cough, smoker’s cough or a pneumonia cough. I said something is wrong.
“I really thought my son was healthy and he wasn’t. I was frustrated and angry at the time because he’s a good kid, like why him? But, why not him? God picks his strongest warriors.”
The surgery took more than 14 hours and Juan had been on the transplant list only a few weeks, according to Jones.
Juan stayed at UVA Hospital in Charlottesville during recovery and returned home March 15.
Juan said he’s glad he’s back home and is much more comfortable than he was at the hospital. He said the New Kent High School community has been supportive; he has a teacher who comes to tutor him every day after school — and sometimes on weekends — to help him catch up.
“It drives me up the wall that I’m behind so much. I have to do my work and catch up to take tests on time,” Juan said.
Jones said Juan’s heart is checked twice a week during their trips to Charlottesville to make sure it’s not being rejected and is working properly.
“He has no other problems, it was just his heart. Now his heart is pumping like a champ,” Jones said. “Everything is simmering down now. He’s alive, that’s all that matters.”
Looking to the future
Juan recently submitted his wish to meet engineer and Tesla CEO Elon Musk to the Make-A-Wish Foundation. Juan hopes to be an engineer and is eager to have a collaborative experience with Musk.
“I picked Elon Musk because when I got asked to make a wish, I didn’t want to meet someone that was temporary for like five or 10 minutes. I want to meet someone that I can actually talk to and somewhat relate to. Maybe Elon Musk can help me become a better engineer. We could do stuff together, I have a lot of ideas,” Juan said.
He wants to become either a biomedical or mechanical engineer and study at Virginia Tech, University of Virginia, Florida State University or Oklahoma State University.
Juan said he is very thankful for all the support he has received.
“I thank everybody for supporting me because, honestly, everyone’s prayers saved my life. I feel very well cared for and loved, and I feel honored that everybody would do that for me.”
Juan said his friends and teammates from school visit him every so often, as well as his brother Jeremiah, 10, and sister Christina, 6, who live with his stepmom in Newport News.
Jones said they were and still are very blessed to have had so much support and help over the past few months.
“God gave us the opportunity to have loved ones, good friends and family and the community look over him as he goes through his situation,” Jones said.
New Kent High School Principal Christopher Valdrighi has offered steady support.
Valdrighi was at the hospital the day of Juan’s heart transplant surgery.
“I’m thrilled and glad he’s back home. He’s a great kid,” Valdrighi said. “I’ll be even more thrilled when we get him back in the school building.”
Valdrighi said Juan is a great student and was always worried about his grades and schoolwork while in the hospital.
“We actually had to convince him to focus on himself during his situation,” Valdrighi said.
Juan stopped in at schoolon March 15 after he came home.
“It was really good for him and for everyone,” Valdrighi said. “He got to see his teachers and his classmates for a few minutes.”
The hashtag #NewKentStrong has been going around social media in support of Juan and others in need in the community.
Juan said he thinks it’s a very powerful movement.
“New Kent strong means coming together and the whole entire community is strong,” Juan said. “When people come together they can do and acquire many things.”
Jones said the family’s perspective on life has changed drastically, adding life is too short not to support one another.
To Make a Donation
The family’s GoFundMe page is still accepting donations at gofundme.com/helping-with-juans-expenses. It was created in December and has raised $10,060 of its $15,000 goal as of Monday.
Luck can be reached at 757-291-2038 or firstname.lastname@example.org