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KU student recovering after whirlwind heart transplant

Posted at 4:11 PM, May 28, 2019
and last updated 2019-05-28 17:21:57-04

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Darius Sheppard is a model college student. The 21-year-old University of Kansas junior is a voice major, active on campus and in his local church. But back in Februrary he got really sick.

"You think you have asthma and come out with heart failure in a matter of hours," Sheppard said. "The doctors said they didn't know how I was surviving with a heart as big as it was. It was barely pulsing."

Darius had cardiomyopathy. His heart was multiple times the size it should be and his case was advanced.

Bethany Austin is a cardiologist at St. Luke's Mid America Heart Institute and medical director of the heart failure program.

"The stars were just aligned. It was one of those cases where you feel like had it happened any differently, you don't know if the outcome would be as good," Austin said.

In late April - on Easter Sunday - Darius got the call that he was getting a new heart. The next day, he got the transplant. He's been singing in and out of the hospital the entire time.

A month after the transplant, Sheppard's recovery is tough but going smoothly. Each day, he takes 32 different medications to prevent his body from rejecting the new heart and to build up his diminished immune system.

He set up this GoFundMe to help his parents with the extraordinary cost of his care and medication.

The hymn that got Darius through his toughest days is called, "This is the Day." He says it's the perfect soundtrack for his story "because it is a day God didn't have to give me."

For the past three years, Roberta Gumbel has been Sheppard's voice coach at KU. She tells 41 Action News, "He's got a light inside that just shines."

Que Sheppard, Darius' mom, says his voice is different now.

"You can hear the second chance that he has now. You can hear that he is not taking anything for granted in his song. In his voice. There's a meaning behind it baby. That's what I hear," she said.

Darius wants to thank his family, friends and school for all of their support through this process.

The singer said, "I don't think I will ever have the right words to say because we all went through this. I got the new heart but I feel like we all got a change of heart."