MINNEAPOLIS — UPDATE: On the morning of Aug. 15, six-year-old Maddy Fleischacker successfully underwent heart transplant surgery after a donor heart became available. Two weeks later, little Rinken Braun received her donor heart as well.
For four months, they've been waiting.
In one hospital room: Maddy Fleischacker, age 6, from Buffalo, Minnesota.
In another room: Rinken Braun, 21-month-old, from Brookings, South Dakota.
Separating the girls are four years and a few hundred feet. Yet, daily, Maddy and Rinken are joined by hearts.
“They're just inseparable,” Emily Johnson, Rinken’s mother says.
In April, both girls arrived at Children’s Minnesota as strangers. Rinken’s heart defect had been detected before she was born. Maddy’s was only discovered in January. To survive long-term, both need heart transplants.
So, they wait. And they play.
If Rinken is on a riding toy, Maddy will be pushing it. If Maddy is guest-hosting the hospital’s in-house TV show, Rinken will be at her side.
And if Maddy is drawing a picture, there’s never a doubt who the recipient will be.
“Rinken,” Maddy says, looking up from her crayons.
Rinken calls Maddy, "Mae Mae." She may as well call her "sister."
“I think it was at that level the day they met,” Rinken’s mother says.
Both girls require around-the-clock IVs. To leave their rooms means poles and plastic tubing comes with them.
It’s been this way for four months and will continue to be so until donor hearts can be found.
“We're waiting for a gift that is the hardest thing in the world to ask for – life,” Emily says.
Listening nearby, Miguella Fleischaker, Maddy’s mom, wipes away tears. “For another parent to have to lose their child for ours to survive is so hard,” she says. “I don't want to pray for it because I don't want someone to lose their child.”
It’s unlikely both girls will be matched with hearts at the same time.
It’s also unlikely either mom will feel a tinge of envy, should her daughter be left waiting while the other girl proceeds to a transplant.
“If they were to interrupt us right now to say Mae Mae's getting a heart, I would jump for joy,” Emily says.
Same for Miguella.
“Absolutely,” she says. “I mean, how could you not?”
The girls play in a hospital activity center. Maddy is dressed in her favorite shirt. On the front of the gray t-shirt, inside a red heart, are the words, “Rinken Strong.”
“It means I love her a lot,” Maddy says.
The girls wait, but seldom have a bad day.
Why would they, when their best friend is just an IV line away?
According to LifeSource, more than 3,000 people locally remain on the transplant waiting list. For more information on becoming an organ donor, click here.
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