The new doctor is grateful to the boy who donated the heart that keeps him alive

Harvard Medical School graduate Jon Hochstein received a heart transplant at age 4 and hopes to help children who also need organ transplants. (Hochstein family photo)

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SALT LAKE CITY — Four-year-old Jon Hochstein waited patiently at Primary Children’s Hospital for a heart transplant. He didn’t know until more than 20 years later that it was from a boy who died in the same hospital, in the same intensive care unit where he was staying.

Now, at 27, Hochstein is a graduate of Harvard Medical School and preparing to begin residency at Boston Children’s Hospital.

“I wanted to be a doctor from the moment I had my heart transplant,” said the new graduate.

At the end of his first year of medical school, Hochstein said, a reporter helped him find the donor’s family. Hochstein had tried to find them before, guessing that his heart might have come from a boy he had heard about who had died around the same time he received the heart.

Christopher Brazell had been hit by a car while walking through a school crosswalk in Wendover when he was 8 years old.

His sister, April Hough, from upstate New York, said her mother was initially opposed to Christopher’s organ donation, after the accident left him brain dead. As she was walking through the halls of the children’s primary school, her mother saw a young boy who looked very sick and asked the nurses what was wrong. Hough said he was told the boy was awaiting a heart transplant.

Hough said the harsh reality of the little boy’s need for a heart led his mother to decide to donate her son’s organs, but the family did not learn, at the time, that Christopher’s heart was going. to the boy his mother had seen and asked for.

The opportunity to meet Hochstein and hear his brother’s heart again was “like running home from the playground all over again.”

“Organ donation for the donor’s family is healing,” she said. “As crazy as it sounds, it really brings a sense of peace.”

Christopher Brazell's heart kept Jon Hochstein alive and became a doctor, after Brazell was hit by a car in a crosswalk and killed at the age of 8.
Christopher Brazell’s heart kept Jon Hochstein alive and became a doctor, after Brazell was hit by a car in a crosswalk and killed at the age of 8. (Photo: Brazell family photo)

The two parties met around 21 years after Christopher’s death – after Hough said she had given up on the idea of ​​meeting the recipient. She said meeting Hochstein and seeing what he was doing with his life brought about a positive change in her life – knowing that Hochstein’s gratitude for his brother helps their family feel like Christopher didn’t die in vain. .

“I don’t think I’ve ever met such a humble person in my entire life. He radiates humility and gratitude,” Hough said.

Katy Welkie, CEO of Intermountain Primary Children’s Hospital and Vice President of Intermountain Children’s Health, said two families found themselves in the pediatric ICU at the same time more than two decades ago and were able to help each other .

“These are the kind of unforgettable moments in our hospital that we cherish as caregivers,” Welkie said.

She was then director of nursing in intensive care and said she was always touched by families who decide to give the “gift of life” through organ donation.

Rose Linsler, the nurse responsible for caring for young Hochstein when he was so ill, is now a nurse with the Intermountain Life Flight. She said all the pediatric intensive care staff knew Hochstein and loved him, and hoped he would eventually get a new heart.

Hochstein said he has few memories of that time and many are from stories told to him, but one offers Linsler a plastic ring. He also remembers interacting with the phlebotomists and shooting them with a dart gun, and riding his bike down the hospital hallway.

Linsler said the day they lost Christopher, Hochstein got sicker and it was unclear if he would survive the night. She said there were a lot of coincidences that day, one of them being that Christopher’s heart was a perfect match for their then 4-year-old patient.

“I continue to share this story with people all the time, and never without getting goosebumps and sometimes a few tears, because it shows hope and reminds us of the positive results of organ donation,” said said Linsler.

She thanked Hochstein’s mother for allowing her to be part of the family during their difficult time. She said she kept in touch with Hochstein and always joked that he was her fiancé.

Jon Hochstein cycles through the halls of the hospital while awaiting a heart transplant at Primary Children's Hospital.
Jon Hochstein cycles through the halls of the hospital while awaiting a heart transplant at Primary Children’s Hospital. (Photo: Hochstein family photo)

David and Barb Hochstein, parents of Jon Hochstein, expressed their gratitude for Christopher’s family and said they are thinking of his family every day. They said they prayed that if something unfortunate happened to someone, that the family would make the decision to donate organs that could help their son stay alive. David Hochstein said that too often the organs that could be donated are not.

“Not many days go by that we don’t think about this tragedy,” he said. “And even after bringing Jon home, it was sometimes a melancholy time, because we thought, over the holidays, about how the donor’s family had an empty seat at their table. And that’s a sobering thought.”

He said the tragedy in Christopher Brazell’s family gave their son an incredible second chance at life – one that Jon Hochstein did not take for granted.

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Emily Ashcraft joined KSL.com as a reporter in 2021. She covers court and legal affairs, as well as health, faith and religion news.

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