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DeKalb family celebrates one-year anniversary of son's heart transplant

Rejuvenated youngster still facing kidney problems; fundraiser planned

DeKALB – A year ago Wednesday, 18-year-old Ricky De La Cruz of DeKalb was undergoing a life-saving heart transplant.

Today, the DeKalb High School student can run, be more engaged in sports, ride roller coasters and finish a day of school without having to take naps between classes.

In recognition of her son’s progress, Dori De La Cruz invited family members and supporters, who all donned red T-shirts, to her DeKalb home Wednesday to release red balloons honoring all transplant recipients.

“I just wanted to thank the DeKalb community for all of their support and prayers,” Dori De La Cruz said.

Some of the attendees were families of children who also had heart transplants about the same time as Ricky.

Larry and Lisa Belcher of Braidwood brought their 10-year-old son, Braedan, who had a heart transplant a couple of months after Ricky because of a congenital heart defect. After the surgery, Braedan was recovering on the same floor as Ricky at the Ann and Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago.

Since then, Braedan’s mother said her son has become much more active.

“Before, he would get very winded and tired and didn’t take an interest in anything that was athletic or could cause exertion,” Lisa Belcher said. “Now he looks forward to doing these things with his friends.”

Also in attendance was Charlie Crum, a DHS assistant football coach who does one-on-one assistance with Ricky during school.

He helps him with day-to-day activities, behavioral problems or any other needs.

These services are offered to certain students with medical conditions.

Crum said he has worked as an assistant for students for three years, but Ricky currently is the only one he works with one-on-one.

“When I first started working with him, he got tired a lot and would nap twice a day during school, once after the first couple of periods and once after lunch,” Crum said. “All the teachers knew about his condition, so they were OK with him doing it. But since coming back to school after the transplant, he has been participating more, interacting more with his peers and has lots of energy.”

However, Ricky still faces other medical challenges.

He has experienced kidney problems since birth and is in stage three renal failure, having been hospitalized by the condition numerous times since November. De La Cruz said her son eventually will need a kidney transplant, but he is not yet on the transplant list.

In order to raise funds for this surgery, the De La Cruz family is holding a fundraiser, Move for Ricky, at 6 p.m. May 12 at the Kishwaukee Family YMCA’s skating rink.

“But the good news is his heart is very strong,” Dori De La Cruz said. “People have said that Ricky has changed their lives, and seeing him gives people hope.”

When asked how his life has changed a year after his surgery, Ricky excitedly said that he has a girlfriend, referring to Becca Butler, 18, whom Ricky asked to prom after the release of the balloons.

Butler also was Ricky’s prom date last year at a special prom ceremony at the Lurie hospital.

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