Mackenia Hansen planted sunflower seeds on May 23 while at her home in Jamestown with her 4-month-old son, Ryker. The next day, at an appointment at the Sanford Children's Hospital in Fargo to see why her son was underweight for his age, doctors informed Hansen that her son had aortic stenosis.
Aortic stenosis is a common but severe condition that narrows the aortic valve in the heart, restricting the blood flow from the left ventricle to the aorta and forcing the heart to work harder, according to the American Heart Association. Symptoms include breathlessness, chest pains and fainting.
Immediately following the diagnosis, Ryker was rushed to the University of Minnesota Masonic Children's Hospital by ambulance.
"It felt like a slap in the face," said Jon Zeiszler, Ryker's father. "Here we thought we had this healthy young boy ... it was just a slap in the face."
Three and a half hours later, Ryker was admitted into the hospital where he was immediately taken into surgery. Doctors placed a catheter through his leg up to his heart to expand his heart valve to allow for easier blood flow, according to the Go Fund Me page Hansen created for Ryker.
After five weeks, on June 28, Ryker was taken into his third open-heart surgery. At the time, there were two others in front of him on the heart transplant waiting list.
"We've had a lot of support from family," Zeiszler said. "Our parents have taken turns coming here and our grandparents come visit, too. There's a lot of support."
This week, at 3:51 p.m. on Tuesday, Aug. 6, Hansen received a phone call. Ryker was now first on the wait list for a new heart, and a match had been found.
At 2 a.m. on Aug. 7, Ryker's heart transplant began at the University of Minnesota Masonic Children's Hospital. At approximately 7:28 a.m., his new heart beat inside his chest for the first time.
Ryker's sternum was closed and his breathing tube was removed on Aug. 8, Zeiszler said. A long road to recovery remains, but Zeiszler said the family is prepared for it.
"The normal schedule is two to three months in the hospital followed by two to three months still in the city (Minneapolis)," Zeiszler said. "Depending on how his body reacts, we could be home sooner."
Zeiszler and Hansen made the decision to postpone their Sept. 28 wedding, something Zeiszler said was difficult to do, but not a difficult decision to make.
"We don't want Ryker to be in the hospital alone," Zeiszler said. "We want him to be in the wedding. He was going to be a ring bearer."
Zeiszler also said he has found a new perspective on what is most important in life.
"Appreciate what you got," Zeiszler said. "We've come to terms with everything we're dealing with. You have to. What else are you going to do?"
Several of Hansen's friends, including Nicole Fuestenberg of Jamestown, have organized a 5K color run to raise money for the cost of Ryker's medical bills.
Ryker's Run for Little Hearts will be at 9:30 a.m. on Saturday, Aug. 24, starting and ending at Wilhelm Chevrolet Buick GMC in Jamestown. The event costs $25 per person and participants will receive a free T-shirt. A grill out will be held after the run and all proceeds will go directly to Ryker's medical expenses.
Zeiszler said people should be encouraged by Ryker's story and consider becoming an organ donor themselves. Fuestenberg, who had never really thought about being an organ donor, said she plans to become one.
"Honestly I had never thought about it until it touched so close to home," Fuestenberg said. "So it's definitely something I think people should consider and something I myself am going to do."
Like Zeiszler, Ryker's story has given Fuestenberg a new outlook on life.
"Appreciate even the smallest things," Fuestenberg said. "You just never know what could happen tomorrow."
Hansen's fascination with sunflowers runs much further than her garden, as she had planned to use them as a theme in her and Zeiszler's wedding.
On Aug. 6, after receiving the phone call from doctors explaining Ryker's new heart had been found and the surgery would begin the next day, Hansen and Zeiszler traveled to their home in Jamestown to pack for their travel back to Minneapolis.
While packing, Hansen said she noticed something: outside, one of the sunflowers she planted the day before Ryker's diagnosis had bloomed.