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Fenway visit thrills heart recipient

Fenway visit thrills heart recipient

BOSTON -- Even while standing breathless, eyes wide open, mouth agape, 13-year-old Andrew Madden seemed in his element on Thursday afternoon, 2,100 miles from his native Odessa, Texas, where he prepared himself to toe the Fenway Park mound like his hero, Josh Beckett. Long ago, Madden learned to trust his instincts, even when circumstances determined they would stand in the way.

"I started watching [the Red Sox] in 2004 [against] the Yankees and everything, and just stuck with them and kept watching them and just fell in love with them," said Madden, who wore a blue team jacket and a Red Sox cap on Thursday. "[I like them] just because they're amazing, how the fans always support them and everybody just never gives up their belief in them."

The odd and miraculous coincidence of Madden's Red Sox fandom, then, wasn't how it made an adolescent West Texan a natural follower of New England's favorite team. No, the coincidence was the friend that rooting interests provided Madden in his most difficult days, at Children's Medical Center in Dallas, while he awaited a heart transplant.

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"Well, the way it started," said Dr. Kristine Guleserian, "I was given his name and I knew he was up on the cardiology floor in our hospital at Children's Medical Center, and he had been admitted Aug. 14 with heart failure. Andrew actually hadn't gained a single pound in the whole previous year, which is unusual for a growing adolescent boy."

Still, five days after his 13th birthday, long after he was first diagnosed with a heart condition as an infant, Madden was living a normal life, which for him meant plenty of his two favorite sports: baseball and golf.

On Aug. 13, he was trying out a new set of golf clubs on a local par 3 course with his mother, Lauri Wemmer. Suddenly, he collapsed to his knees, gasping for breath.

"He was showing all the signs of heart failure," Wemmer said.

"His exercise tolerance wasn't there," said Guleserian, "and his ankles were swelling."

Madden was flown to Dallas and admitted to Children's Medical Center on Aug. 14, where he received intravenous medication.

"He had reached a point where his heart was just barely pumping," Wemmer said.

Friendship, Madden soon learned, was in the same building. Unbeknownst to him, he was 350 miles closer to Guleserian, a Boston native and a die-hard Red Sox fan.

"So I got the message that there's a 13-year-old boy up on the eighth floor who may need a heart transplant," Guleserian said, "and [to] go meet him. I said, 'Is there anything else you can tell me about him?' They said, 'Well, he's a baseball player.'"

"So I just walked up there. I had no idea what I was going to find. And I saw this young man with a 'Tornadoes Baseball' T-shirt on and he was walking around with an iPod."

Guleserian spoke first.

"I'm Dr. Guleserian," she said. "They call me 'Dr. G.' I'm one of the heart surgeons here. I'm from Boston, and I'm a huge Red Sox fan. And I know you play baseball."

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Madden's eyes brightened.

"That's my favorite team," he said.

The two became fast friends: doctor and patient. It reached the point that when Guleserian checked in, she would ask Madden first how the Red Sox were doing, and then how he was feeling. He wouldn't have it another way.

Once, Guleserian called home from abroad, unable to check the Red Sox scores. She tried her family in Boston. She tried her friends. They didn't answer.

"I know who's watching the game," she thought, and then dialed Madden's room number.

"One day on rounds, I was walking in," Guleserian said, "and he and his mother were on the Internet looking for a Boston Red Sox cap to purchase online. And I had already got one from Fenway for him. And I said, 'Well, Andrew, you might want to wait a bit. There may be something for you.'"

On a Saturday, she brought the hat in a box. With it, a note read, "Andrew, here's a little something for good luck. The best is yet to come."

Guleserian's pager buzzed with an offer at 4 a.m. ET on Sunday. "Just a perfect donor heart," she said.

And so on Sept. 30, doctor and patient underwent the 100th heart transplant in the history of the Children's Medical Center. Madden wore his Red Sox cap during the operation. Guleserian wore her Operating Room hat adorned with a Red Sox logo, a relic from her training days in Boston.

"We had our Red Sox gear on," Guleserian said, "and we felt like that was a good sign for the Red Sox, because we all believe in the karma."

Not until the last game of the American League Division Series did Madden regain his faculties. He watched the Red Sox clinch a trip to the AL Championship Series on TV.

"And then I watched all of the Cleveland series," Madden said. "Stayed up through the long game. Stayed up through every game."

Twenty-five days after his surgery, Madden was healthy enough to throw the ceremonial first pitch of Game 2 of the 2007 World Series. And thanks to an event hatched by Guleserian, made possible by an invite from Red Sox President/CEO Larry Lucchino and facilitated with a flight provided by the nonprofit Grace Flight of America, it was about to happen.

Four hours earlier, meanwhile, Madden experienced another couple of firsts. For the first time, he had a chance to see Fenway Park. For the first time, seemingly, he was speechless.

"Usually, he's got something to say about everything," Guleserian said. "He's just in awe."

"I just wanted to be able to go to Fenway Park, just for once," said Madden. "But a World Series game, that's just a once-in-a-lifetime chance."

The real coincidence: a collision of like minds, a meeting of Red Sox fans half a continent away from the heart of Red Sox Nation. Because of that coincidence, Madden stood on the front of the mound at Fenway Park on Thursday night, then lobbed the first pitch to Doug Mirabelli.

Guleserian watched from the infield grass, then gave him a hug.

"[Andrew] came across this particular doctor," Wemmer said. "You know, she's an amazing surgeon, but she's an amazing person. And being a Red Sox fan, and [his being] a Red Sox fan, it just totally took his mind off of the fact that he was sick."

"You know," Wemmer said, "you always hear the saying that things happen for a reason."

Alex McPhillips is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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