Florida boy with transplanted heart escapes Irma to Knoxville

Jayden Langan (Courtesy: WATE)

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) – A Florida family headed for safety faced another risk beyond the hurricane. Their son can’t stay at a shelter because of his health.

Thanks to relatives in Knoxville, they have a safe place to stay, but they need to get back home to the Tampa/St. Petersburg area as soon as possible to take their child back to the doctor for a new round of treatment.

Jayden Langan, 13, came from Florida to Tennessee with his family to escape Irma. Now he plays catch with his brother Billy in their grandmother’s backyard in West Knoxville to pass the time before he can go home.

Their dad Will brought them and the rest of the family here early Saturday after the evacuation order for Pinellas County.

They were part of the exodus from Florida stuck on the interstate for hours upon hours.

“It’s normally about a ten hour drive – took us about 22 hours,” said Will Langan. “After talking about it, with their parents, with my kids’ mom, finally decided it would just be best for us all to go.”

A large part of his fatherly concern was for Jayden’s well being.

“I was scared to death of him making this long trip,” said Langan. “He’s supposed to be wearing a mask everywhere he goes but sometimes it’s hard to get him to put the mask on.”

Jayden was worried too, but not about himself.

“I’m more worried about my family,” said Jayden. “There’s a reason we had to come here. Because I don’t think if we stayed in Florida, I think that we wouldn’t have our lives anymore.”

Jayden knows what it’s like to appreciate life even at his young age. He had to have a heart transplant had a heart transplant when he was a baby. A tiny donor heart was rushed through the halls of All Children’s Hospital in St. Petersburg in 2004. A local television station followed his seven hour operation.

Jayden did pretty well for the next several years. Being an avid sports lover, Jayden got to throw the first pitch at the Tampa Bay Rays game when he was five thanks to the Make a Wish Foundation. But then at age nine, Jayden was rushed to the hospital. He was a sick little boy. His body was rejecting his transplanted heart, but doctors managed to turn things around.

The trek to Knoxville has put Jayden behind on treatments for new rounds of immunotherapy back at home. His dad hopes to get back on the road as soon as he knows their home is in good shape.

Jayden is anxious to get back to his regular routine and sends a message of strength to his fellow Floridians far from home: “Be safe, stay on their feet.”

The evacuation order was lifted on Monday, but the family is still trying to find out how much damage was done to their home and if the power is back on. Jayden needs electricity because of his home nebulizer treatments to keep his airways open.