Student With Down Syndrome Returns to School After Getting Heart Transplant

The Michigan student underwent heart transplant surgery in September.

Tyler Krueger, a 24-year-old Michigan student with Down syndrome, returned to school to with a new, and extremely light, heart.

The ebullient young man hadn't been able to attend class since September, when he underwent transplant surgery to replace his sick heart.

For Krueger, going back to school was the best thing that had happened to him since he started getting sick three years ago.

And the students and teachers at Pine Tree Center in Lake Orion, Michigan, were just as ecstatic to see him. They greeted him with balloons, signs and shouts of joy earlier this month.  A video of his triumphant return was posted on the Facebook page of Lake Orion Community Schools, where it has been viewed more than 55,000 times.

"He is the nicest, nicest boy ever," Julie Gutman, special education director for Lake Orion Community Schools, told "He is unbelievably kind. He has the best attitude."

Krueger is first person with Down syndrome to undergo a heart transplant in Michigan, his family said.

The young man had been in good health until a virus began eating away at his heart. After myriad tests and medical visits, doctors eventually put a pump in his heart. He had carry a battery pack to run the device, and at night he slept with it plugged into a light socket to recharge the battery.

There has to be a better way, his parents thought. That's when they started researching heart transplant options.

People with Down syndrome can experience lower immune systems, Tyler's mother, Shelly, said. They worried he would reject a new organ.

But Tyler is thriving, she said. "Every day is a gift." Once Tyler was approved for a transplant, he was on the list for only three weeks before his family got the call that a heart matching Tyler's needs had been found. "We were very happy," she said. "Very, very happy."

Since his surgery, he had been home-schooled by the center. "He functions very well," said Gutman. "He's doing some reading. One of his goals is finding a job. He's working on money skills."

His exuberance about going back to class was infectious, his mother said. "He just has a way of worming himself into your heart," she said. 

"He's so happy and friendly. He loves people. He does Special Olympics. He loves church. He loves hunting and fishing."

A great many folks know Tyler from competing in the Special Olympics, said his dad, Buster. "There are about 35,000 people here. It's kinda small, but it's kind of big."

On the day he went back to school, Tyler hugged and high-fived his way through those assembled to welcome him home. Then he strode straight to his classroom. 

"He walked right it, sat at his desk, and he was ready to go," Gutman said. 

"Oh my gosh, we were so happy to have him back," she added. "For us, it was huge."