MOUNT VERNON, Mo. – Sophomore Mount Vernon running back Preston Hardyman was enjoying the average summer of athletics until an unexpected health scare changed his life forever.
During football practice on Aug. 11, Mountaineer Head Coach Tom Cox noticed Preston’s sluggish, breathless demeanor and felt something was awry. Cox made him take his helmet off and sit down, possibly saving the young teen’s life.
Once at home, Preston talked to his unsuspecting father about his swollen legs.
“With the little bit of medical background I have from being a medic in the Air Force, I thought, ‘That’s not right. If he was my age, we would be looking at congestive heart failure with that kind of swelling in the legs,’” said his father, Tim Hardyman.
Preston’s primary physician recommended going directly to the emergency room at Mercy Hospital Aurora, where doctors promptly began rounds of testing and found Preston’s heart was enlarged at abnormally dangerous levels. Dilated cardiomyopathy was the official diagnosis, and the high school student was quickly flown to Children’s Mercy hospital in Kansas City.
Tim says the first option for his son was medication, but Preston’s heart was not responding to the drugs. To everyone’s surprise and horror, the next step had to be a full heart transplant – the high school student was now in complete heart failure.
Medical staff placed a temporary ventricular assist device into Preston’s left ventricle until he could become strong enough to endure a transplant. He was designated as a status 1A top priority transplant patient and would not be able to leave the hospital until he received a new heart.
“One of the transplant nurses told me his heart was the biggest heart she had seen. She had been doing transplants for 11 years,” Tim told The Heartlander.
Meanwhile back home, the Mountaineer student body was planning a “neon-out” fundraiser to help support the Hardyman family during their difficult time. The team’s opponent for the evening were the Logan-Rogersville Wildcats, who brought their own student body to help raise funds.
As Coach Cox ran onto the field bearing Preston’s jersey in his hands, cheerleaders from both schools passed buckets around the crowd for donations and raised $4,000 for the Hardyman family. The Mountaineers now bring Preston’s jersey to the field for each game.
“This was all student-led. There weren’t teachers and administrators calling and telling them about it. That was kind of neat,” Tim said.
On Sept. 16, just over a month after his hospitalization, a donor was found and Preston finally received his new heart. The hospital does not allow contact between transplant recipients and donor families until a year after the surgery, but once that mark passes, Tim said he’s going to make sure the donor family knows how grateful he is.
“That’s good, so they can go through the grieving process,” he said of the waiting period. “Of course we will send a note, but basically I just want to say thank you. Through their choice to have their loved one’s organs donated, our son is able to have life right now. It’s becoming a good quality of life, too. He is getting better and stronger every day.”
Medical staff have been helping Preston gain his weight back and keep him exercising while tests are run frequently to ensure his body does not reject the donor heart.
Physicians told the Hardyman family Preston may be able to come home around Thanksgiving, but for now the young athlete must remain 30 minutes from the Kansas City-area hospital so he can return quickly if he needs to.
Coach Cox has visited his sophomore running back at the hospital, and his Mount Vernon teammates continue to reach out and stay in touch. As long as his health continues to improve, Preston will have the opportunity to further pursue his football and track careers in 2023.