LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- It's a big milestone for Children's Hospital Los Angeles, as its staff celebrated 25 years of pediatric heart transplant surgeries.
Making the day all the more special were many former patients coming back to thank their doctors and nurses.
"I know all of my transplant patients when they are little," said Dr. Cindy Herrington, the lead transplant surgeon at CHLA. "And then you all grow up and get big on me and I hardly recognize you anymore."
Many of these young patients had transplants in the last year, but others received donor hearts more than two decades ago.
"This feels like coming home," Melanie Wickersheim said.
In the summer of 1995, now 33-year-old Wickersheim was one of the first to receive a heart transplant.
"A transplant isn't only a surgery. It's a uniquely transformative way of life," she said. "And our transplant teams are there for us every step of the way."
Michael Young received a new heart shortly afterwards. Eyewitness News covered his surgery in 1996 because he was one of the first to be given a Left Ventricle Assist Device, which was new technology at the time.
"I never thought I'd be 22 years out," Young said. "It's amazing."
Meeting patients like Young is inspiring to 15-year-old Zerkari Payne. We first met him last summer right after he received a new heart and kidney. It fills his family with hope to see patients doing so well.
"I'm just going to live life. Play basketball again, probably," Payne said.
The medical director of the heart transplant program, Dr. Jondavid Menteer, says each of the patients have been through so much at the hospital that they all feel like family.
"I just want to rejoice in the successes of those recipients that are with us here today, and there are so many of you, it's unbelievable," Menteer said. "And I want to remember the fighting spirit of those that didn't make it here today. I want to also acknowledge the unending gift that came from each of those donors that made this program possible."
Patients are here to reflect, rejoice and re-dedicate their lives. But they're also here to remember the donor families who gave them a second chance.
Children's Hospital Los Angeles celebrates 25 years of heart transplants
CIRCLE OF HEALTH
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