Back In His Mother's Arms

Four-month-old Dillon Sellers lies waiting for a heart transplant in Loma Linda University Children's Hospital as his mother, Betsy, 37, strokes his head, in Loma Linda, Calif., Monday, March 3, 2003. Dillon's father, Marine Maj. Hal Sellers, was deployed to the Persian Gulf, Friday, Feb. 28.
Remember baby Dillon?

He's a U.S. soldier's infant son who was waiting for a heart transplant when his father, Marine Maj. Hal Sellers, shipped out for Iraq. Last month Dillon received a new heart, and last week he was released from the hospital.

Betsy told The Early Show that walking out of the hospital with her baby in her arms was a miracle.

"Actually, it was a bittersweet miracle," she said. "I wish my husband, obviously, was there with me to enjoy it. But we're just so thankful that all of this has turned out well for Dillon, and hopefully for a lot of people that are waiting for organ donations."

As the family struggled with Dillon's diagnosis this winter, the Marines offered Sellers a desk job at the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center in Twentynine Palms, a small desert town 140 miles east of Los Angeles.

But the 13-year veteran is second-in-command of the 3rd Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion, and had trained for months to deploy to the Middle East. His wife said ultimately he was concerned about bringing in a new member so late in the training.

So, with two sons at home and one on life support, Sellers shipped out with the men and women he had trained for battle. He went off to Kuwait - and then Iraq, while the baby was in the hospital in desperate need of a life-saving heart transplant. The baby eventually received the transplant and was released from the hospital on April 17.

Betsy Sellers says of her husband, "He's been able to call about once a week. And his unit has been chosen to do some stabilization activity. So he thinks he might be there a couple more months."

She says mail has been slow so she has not even sent recent pictures of their baby to her husband. He has seen just pictures of their baby after the surgery. Now, he looks quite different. Dillon's favorite pastime these days is eating, she said.

"He's eating a lot. He's playing catch up. He was about 9 pounds at surgery. And he's pushing 15 now," she said.

She noted his little personality is showing more, now that his medication has decreased.

"He's very alert," Betsy Sellers says. "He mentally and developmentally is doing really well. We're working on physically. Of course, he's still kind of weak. So we do some exercises. But he's enjoying a lot of new experiences now. It's neat to be with him."

And he is smiling a lot: "He likes to lay flat on his back and then I will rub his tummy and play with his legs and he'll smile and make noises. So it's really fun to be with him."

Her other boys, ages 6 and 8, were even able to hold him on Sunday. "They were thrilled. They were very excited... My oldest son Alex said he seems so normal. And they're just really excited to be able to see him without tubes, and out of his bed and they're anxious to get him home."

For now, the family is living at a Ronald McDonald House to be near the hospital where they have to check in twice a week. She hopes they will go home for good in a couple of months.

"They're monitoring him. Of course, his biggest risks are infection and rejection. The medication that he's on for his heart, in effect, shuts down his immune system. So he's very susceptible to infections. So they're watching him real closely. But so far he's just done great," she said.
She says she can't wait to put baby Dillon in her husband's arms.

"I think it's just going to be one of the best days to be able to hand Dillon to his dad, and see the two of them together," she said.

Marines at Seller's home base say he faced a choice no parent should have to make, but that's part of being a Marine.

"I think this situation sheds light in a very tangible way on the sacrificial nature of service to country. While no one would want to be in the major's position, we understand the difficulties," said Capt. Rob Crum, a base spokesman.

Dillon was born Oct. 18 2002, the third son of Hal and Betsy Sellers. When he was just 10 days old, Dillon went to a base hospital (at Twentynine Palms) for a regularly scheduled check-up. Doctors noticed that he was breathing funny, and suspected a heart murmur.

A second doctor concluded that Dillon was suffering some sort of cardiac failure and that he needed immediate attention, more than what the base hospital could provide.

Dillon was subsequently flown to Loma Linda University Medical Center where he was placed in the ICU. On Oct. 31, Dillon was diagnosed with a genetic disorder, Hypoplastic Left Heart Syndrome, which occurs when the heart is unable to pump or circulate blood.

On March 12, Dillon was rushed into surgery for the heart transplant he needed to remain alive. A heart had been found and donated with the correct blood type and correct size. A team of surgeons operated on him for 11 hours.