For the second time in his life, Jhett Skaggs, 5, is waiting for a new heart. His first heart transplant took place when he was barely 9 months old, after a battle against a disease that nearly claimed his life.
You may remember the Skaggs family of Lexington for their appearance on “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” in 2010. Because of Jhett's fragile health and the hazardous state of the family's home, the show built the family a new house.
By all appearances, the boy seems well — he plays T-ball, goes to school and church, runs, plays and laughs like his friends.
Skaggs' first heart transplant seemed to be a success. The new heart was supposed to last for 12 to 15 years.
But Skaggs' new heart is failing — a routine checkup showed that transplant coronary artery disease has begun to ravage the organ. The disease is common in transplant patients, Audra Skaggs said.
“We're blessed to have caught it because a lot of kids who get it, they don't have any symptoms and it's just sudden death,” Skaggs said.
So again, Jhett Skaggs awaits a new heart. Last week, a medical review board met to assess his situation. Once approved by the family's insurance company, Skaggs will be put on a waiting list for a new heart.
It could take between four and eight months for a new heart to become available, doctors tell the family. In the meantime, Jhett must live within one hour of The Heart Center at Texas Children's Hospital in Houston. Starting soon, Jhett and his father, Brian Skaggs will stay in Houston together during the workweek. Audra Skaggs and daughter, Merit Skaggs, will join them on weekends.
“I call him my million-dollar baby,” said Audra Skaggs. The boy's first heart transplant in 2007 cost more than $1.3 million, she said. The Skaggs' insurance covered about 80 percent.
As part of “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition,” CVS donated a large sum to help pay bills. The family's friends, family and community stepped in to help cover much of the rest, Audra Skaggs said, though she said the family is still upside down financially.
“I'd live on peanut butter and jelly the rest of my life if I had to,” Skaggs said, as long as it meant her children were alive and healthy.
In anticipation of the family's upcoming financial challenges, friends of the Skaggs family, Melissa Hill and Julie Garver are organizing a fundraiser. The two have teamed up with The Queen of the Tees to create “Jhett Power” T-shirts and bracelets.
“As if their story wasn't enough, even in this hard time with everything they're going through, if you need something, they're there,” Hill said of the Skaggses. “It just pulls at your heart strings to know that even though they're going through something hard, they're still praying for other people.”
Most people in Lexington know who Jhett is, Hill said, because of “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition.” But many don't know that he is once again fighting for his life.
She hopes that when people see the shirts and bracelets, it will raise awareness for Jhett's story and for the importance of organ donation. She also hopes to raise as many prayers for the family as possible.
“The more people that pray, the better the outcome will be, we believe,” Hill said.
How to help
Finding a heart
The T-shirts and bracelets are available for purchase and proceeds will go directly to the Skaggs family. T-shirts are $10 and bracelets are $5 (with the option to purchase a bracelet and a shirt together for $13).
First American Bank has opened a Jhett Skaggs Fund to allow people to donate at any of its branches.
If you would like to buy a shirt or bracelet, mail your order to 18105 U.S. 77, Purcell, OK 73080, or go online to the family's Facebook page, The Jhett Skaggs Foundation/Pray for Jhett.