Teen with heart defect gets 2 transplants in same 14-hour surgery

Griffin Montejo waited six weeks for a heart and liver donor and spent two weeks recovering from the 14-hour surgery.
Published: Sep. 18, 2023 at 2:12 AM CDT
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PEORIA, Ariz. (KPHO/Gray News) - A 15-year-old boy from Arizona is the first pediatric heart and liver transplant recipient in the state. He is now home from the hospital after eight weeks, two of which he spent recovering from the 14-hour surgery.

The last couple of months have been a roller coaster of emotions for 15-year-old Griffin Montejo and his family. They’ve felt fear, anxiety, excitement, relief and now gratitude, as their household is whole again, KPHO reports.

“So happy to be home,” Griffin Montejo said.

The 15-year-old was born with a rare congenital heart defect known as hypoplastic left heart syndrome. The serious condition impacts blood flow and prevents the left side of the heart from developing. Doctors say the heart defect also caused irreparable damage to his liver, which left him needing two transplants.

“He’s strong, and he’s a warrior,” said Griffin’s mom, Danielle Montejo, who is also a nurse.

Griffin Montejo spent eight weeks at Phoenix Children’s Hospital, six of those waiting for a heart and liver donor. He then spent two weeks recovering from the 14-hour surgery, which was the first pediatric heart and liver transplant done in Arizona.

His mother got updates every hour on the night of the operation.

“They text you that the new heart was in and beating. That was just such a huge sigh of relief, and then, a couple hours later, we got the text that the new liver was in and doing well,” Danielle Montejo said.

Griffin Montejo’s discharge from the hospital was celebrated with a parade. The halls were lined with nurses and doctors holding signs and handing out messages of encouragement written on hearts.

“He was ready, so we were ready and packed up our stuff and got out of there before anyone changed their mind,” Danielle Montejo said.

Griffin Montejo said this journey has given him a new perspective and a deeper appreciation for the little things in life, like being able to walk and sleep in his own bed.

“I just took it for granted, but now that I’m home and after the experience, I realize how much this house means to me, how much they mean to me,” said the teen, referring to his family.

Initially, being the first pediatric heart and liver transplant recipient in the state was a scary title for Griffin Montejo to hold. Only about two dozen operations like this have ever happened in children nationwide. But now that he’s on the other side, he feels pride.

“It’s awesome, actually,” he said.

Still, it’s been tough to grasp that for the 15-year-old to live, another family had to lose a loved one.

“That’s a difficult emotion to process because we know that family is grieving, but through that grief, they were able to give life to Griffin,” Danielle Montejo said.

As Griffin Montejo heals, he said he dreams about future goals in his second chance at life, saying he hopes to one day meet the donor family so he can thank them in person for the gift of life. An avid hiker, the teen also can’t wait to get back to doing what he loves.

“I want to go after the Arizona Trail,” he said.

The Montejos encourage everyone to sign up to be an organ donor.

The family has received a large outpouring of support from the community. An American Legion event raised $6,500, and the nonprofit presented a check to the family on Saturday.