Less than an hour before the collapse that would lead to his death, 13-year-old Peyton West stood smiling on the front porch of his house.
The ritual of a first-day-of-school picture had once seemed out of reach for Peyton, who was born with hypoplastic left heart syndrome and needed three open-heart surgeries before his fifth birthday. It was threatened again in March 2017, when his health entered a sudden tailspin that only a heart transplant could correct.
Since then, a Facebook page run by his family had chronicled occasional hiccups: More hospital visits, medication management and a brief scare in which they feared his body had rejected the donated heart.
But nothing was wrong Thursday morning, according to his father, Corey West. Peyton woke up at 6:30, slung his red backpack over his shoulders and posed happily for his mother’s picture.
The trouble started on the car ride to school.
“I don’t feel right,” Peyton said, according to his father. “Something’s wrong.”
Corey and his wife still aren’t sure what happened to their son. What they know is that, after being rushed to Children’s Hospital, he died at 10:45 a.m.
“He was perfect last night,” Corey said. “Perfect this morning. And then…it’s just precious. Life is precious.”
Friends and family held a prayer vigil Thursday night in honor of a boy they described as infectiously cheerful and courageous in his struggle with heart problems.
“Peyton was truly a joy to everyone’s path he crossed, and our deepest sympathies go out to his family,” Goshen Local Schools superintendent Darrell Edwards said.
According to his father, Peyton was an avid football fan, but his favorite sports team was FC Cincinnati. He’d inherited his love of the Orange and Blue from Derek Cisneros, the boy whose heart he received in the transplant.
“Peyton thought, since Derek loved it, he would love it,” Corey West said. “And he loved it. And he went to the FC games and soccer became a huge part of Peyton’s life.”
Despite their heartbreak, Peyton’s parents said they can’t praise the cause of organ donation enough. Derek Cisneros’ heart helped Peyton enjoy five months he never would have had without it.
With that in mind, would they consider donating some of their son’s organs to other children?
“I’m not going to say no,” Corey West said.