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Tot survives two heart transplants

FARGO - Shane Giesen thought he had received the perfect gift when his 20-month-old son, Kobe, was given the new heart he desperately needed to survive on Father's Day.

Kobe was diagnosed with heart problems when he was 3 months old, and was flown to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., June 3 after his health plummeted.

By June 4, the doctors said Kobe would die if he didn't immediately get on a heart and lung machine. Even with the machine, Kobe needed a new heart, and soon.

"In Kobe's case, he deteriorated so fast," Giesen said. "He needed one as soon as possible."

While they waited for the new heart, Shane and Karmen Giesen couldn't hold Kobe because of his breathing tubes. The tubes also took away his voice, which made his cries that much more heartbreaking for his parents.

"His tears would just roll down his cheeks," Karmen Giesen said. "It was like, 'Mom, why aren't you picking me up?' It was so hard to see him like that."

The Giesens, who are both accountants in Fargo, thought their prayers were answered with the arrival of Kobe's new heart. Doctors cautioned them it was not a perfect heart, but they also said Kobe likely wouldn't have lived another week without it.

But the family's happiness was short-lived.

Shortly after the surgery, doctors discovered Kobe's new heart wasn't functioning properly, and he was back on the transplant list.

Surprisingly, the family was told less than a day later that another heart was available.

"They told us that for his age, a normal wait time is about 45 days," Karmen Giesen said. "The doctors had never seen a back-to-back transplant in a child. The chances of it happening are unbelievably rare."

The hearts came from two young children in Texas.

One of the hardest parts of the transplants is the realization that a child had to die for it to occur, she said.

"How can you ask God to have someone else have an accident and die for your child to live?" she asked. "It was really hard to try to put it in your mind that you're not asking for that accident; it's already happened."

Today marks the end of the first week Kobe has had his new heart. His left side is almost completely paralyzed due to a June 13 stroke, but doctors are optimistic that with therapy he can recover use of his left side.

On Kobe's Caring Bridge Web site, Karmen Giesen writes that she doesn't know why her family was chosen to be put through this pain.

"I keep asking myself, 'Why us?' " she wrote on June 17. "And of course, no one but God knows why. I don't know how much more Shane and I can ride this emotional roller coaster. I pray that Kobe will be able to keep fighting this battle. He looks so weak and has fought so hard."

Kobe will remain in Rochester for the next three months, carefully monitored to make sure his body doesn't reject his new heart. Although Kobe will have to be on medication for the rest of his life, doctors are hopeful for a full recovery, Karmen Giesen said.

"They think he's such a little fighter."