First Aydan Ellis rubs his tiny hands together with the hand sanitizer.
“Germs,” Aydan says.
This kid knows the only word in his world, germs, that is worse than a cuss word.
Then he pulls off the mask that covers his mouth and nose to ward off germs. Aydan tears open the package of Pop Tarts. Strawberry.
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“Red,” said Aydan.
The 3-year-old eats not one, but both, after a monstrous breakfast of pancakes and sausage and bacon, and even drops a few crumbs on the couch.
“You see a boy eat like that, it makes you feel like he is going to be all right,” said John “Bird” Ellis, Aydan’s grandfather. “Boys who eat are healthy boys. Strong boys. And my guy here, he’s tough as nails. He’s a fighter.”
Aydan rubs his belly, still sore after so many tubes and pipes connected to an artificial heart that beat outside his body for four months.
“Yum,” Aydan said.
Nobody at the Ellis home in Rock Hill complains, or worries about crumbs. Because Aydan is alive. And Aydan is home. He came home this week to a hero’s welcome.
When he left the hospital, in a wheelchair, there was a parade. A parade of tears. Grown women and men wept and hugged. Floors of patients and families and clinicians held hands as this tiny little boy who had stolen their hearts with his huge eyes and long lashes and movie star looks and charm and courage to stay alive left them - hopefully forever.
After a heart transplant June 11, after months of waiting and illnesses all his young life, everything little Aydan does is a joy for his family. Aydan’s grandmother, Robbie Ellis, she is thrilled to cook all she can for her grandson, and follow him wherever he goes.
“He is just a joy to have home,” she said.
Aydan’s mother, Miriam Ellis, finally is sleeping in her own bed after living at and near the Levine Children’s Hospital in Charlotte for four months waiting for a donor heart for her son. Yet she really does not sleep much.
She gets up and checks Aydan, all hours of the day and night. She frets. She worries. She is a mother.
“The first 90 days after a transplant are the big ones, when his body is getting used to the new heart,” Miriam Ellis said. “We have to be careful.”
But Aydan, his mother says, does not want to be careful. He runs and climbs and he wasn’t home a few hours and he was trying to jump off the couch.
“Boys gotta climb,” chuckled Bird Ellis the grandfather.
“Not on my couch they don’t” said the grandmother, Robbie - but she didn’t really mean it. Her grandson being strong enough to climb and leap brought joy to her heart.
Miriam, the mother, caught Aydan before he leaped.
“Come here and give your Pop-Pop a pop,” Bird Ellis cackled to his grandson.
The two Ellis men bumped fists.
Then a kiss from the tiny boy with the new heart. No grandfather ever smiled wider.
The house is all smiles these days, after so many months of worry.
Aydan was born with congestive heart failure. His family knew that Aydan would need a transplant, but months ago he had a stroke and there was concern he would ever have proper use of his right leg and right arm. He became fatigued because his birth heart was failing and he had to be admitted to the hospital to stay for around the clock care and the wait for a donor heart.
During Aydan’s stay at the hospital, he became the star of the transplant ward. He was a star just like his late great-uncle, Jimmy Ellis, who when with the Trammps sang the hit “Disco Inferno” that is known all over the world.
But at the hospital Aydan was bigger than even the famous lyrics: “Burn, baby burn.”
The nurses fought for his affections. Other patients and their families looked to him for strength. Aydan hugged and loved them all.
Finally on June 11, the call came and he was rushed to the operating room. The artificial heart was disconnected. The tiny heart from a child who had died was put into Aydan’s chest. The heart was no bigger than a Granny Smith apple.
It started to pump. And it has not stopped since.
“So far, he is recovering extremely well,” Miriam Ellis said.
The stories in The Herald of Aydan’s courageous wait for his heart and his family’s push for people to become donors of their childrens’ organs to help others, and the transplant, continue to help people, his family said. The Associated Press picked up The Herald’s story about Aydan and it ran all over the world.
The Ellis family has received calls, emails, texts and cards, from throughout America and other countries.
“Aydan has inspired so many people,” John Ellis said.
The road is not without stops and starts, however, Aydan has physical and speech therapists for his recovery from the stroke. He has to have biopsies to make sure that his body is not rejecting the heart. And Aydan can’t be around many people during the first three months.
The Ellis family prays, and they are positive, because they believe that not only will Aydan survive this tough ordeal, but he will thrive and grow into a bigger boy who will start 4-year-old kindergarten in August.
And the heart will grow with him.
Aydan is oblivious to it all. He is a kid who will turn 4 on July 19. He plays video games on his mom’s tablet and phone. He watches movies. He plays with his toys: his helicopter zooming and the truck racing.
When asked where is the heart that was outside his body is now, “At the hospital,” Aydan replies.
He is asked where his heart is now.
He points to his chest.