Little girl has the beat of a new heart

April 18, 2010|By JANET HEIM
  • Jocelyn Dunahugh, 2, plays with her parents, Travis Dunahugh and Kristin Johnson at an East North Street apartment.
By Ric Dugan/Staff Photographer,

HAGERSTOWN -- To see her now, 2-year-old Jocelyn Dunahugh looks like the picture of health. Her medical Web site, though, reveals another side of life that most parents would find unimaginable.

Jocelyn's medical journey began when she contracted a virus.

While other family members could have come down with the virus and recovered with no ill effects, the virus caused Jocelyn's heart to become enlarged. During a cardiac catheterization at Children's Hospital in Washington, D.C., she went into cardiac arrest and ended up on life support.

For seven minutes, the doctor performed CPR, unwilling to give up on Jocelyn.

"Those seven minutes were the hardest I've ever been through," said Jocelyn's mother, Kristin Johnson.

Her heart finally started again, but Johnson and Jocelyn's father, Travis Dunahugh, learned she would need a heart transplant.

"It was very, very emotional. None of the procedures or medications were working. There was no other step," Johnson said.


Johnson said that as she and Dunahugh were wrestling with the decision, knowing that Jocelyn would need another transplant in 15 to 20 years, he summed it up best.

"Her daddy said he'd rather have her for the next 15 to 20 years than not at all. It was just something we had to do. We had no other option," Johnson said.

Jocelyn was transferred to The Johns Hopkins Hospital in November 2009. She spent 3 1/2 months there awaiting a donor heart that matched her weight and blood type, said Pat Kane, pediatric heart transplant coordinator the Baltimore hospital.

Johnson, who grew up in Maugansville and lives in Hagerstown, took time off from her job to be with Jocelyn in the hospital and for at least a year while she recovers at home.

Travis Dunahugh also lives in Hagerstown.

Johnson said she and Dunahugh are not married, but are both active parents in Jocelyn's life.

"We were willing to do anything. She's such a strong, magical little baby," said Johnson, who added they're grateful for the support of family, friends and the community.

On March 6, the long-awaited call came. An acceptable donor heart was available, and Jocelyn was prepared for surgery.

"She took off from there. Her heart function is terrific. It's amazing to see," Kane said.

Kane noted that a heart transplant is not a cure, but will give Jocelyn a normal quality of life. Jocelyn will take anti-rejection medications for the rest of her life and will require cardiology follow-ups.

Within weeks, the youngster was home in Hagerstown, adjusting to life outside of the hospital.

"I can cuddle with her. That's the most important thing I could think of at the hospital," where the hospital crib made snuggling difficult, Johnson said.

The Maugansville Ruritan Club donated more than $5,500 to Jocelyn's medical expenses -- half of the proceeds of the organization's auction in March and $2,000 from a memorial fund, along with an individual donation and change collected in jars at local Maugansville businesses.

The Ruritan is hosting a May 3 blood drive in honor of Jocelyn, who required blood transfusions during her hospitalization. The blood drive will be held at the Maugansville Ruritan Building on Maugans Avenue from 2 to 7 p.m.

"She's home and ... she's doing good. They've got a long road," said Jay Stouffer, chairman of the Maugansville Ruritan Social Concerns Committee.

An account has been set up at Susquehanna Bank and donations to the Jocelyn R. Dunahugh Fund may be made at any local Susquehanna branch.

Jocelyn Dunahugh's medical Web site is at

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