Schools welcome students back after heart transplants

By Michelle Martin | Staff writer
Sunday, May 3, 2015

Schools welcome students back after heart transplants

Carmell Chambers thanks students for praying for her as she underwent a heart transplant. On April 16 Deacon Leroy Gill led a thanksgiving prayer service with students at the Academy of St. Benedict the African, 6020 S Laflin St. Students from St. Dorothy School, whom Gill had asked to pray for Chambers, also attended the service. (Karen Callaway/Catholic New World)
Mike Partipilo, who bowls for St. Patrick High School, received a heart transplant last year. Returning to comepetitive bowling has been instrumental in his recovery. (Photo provided)

Does prayer work? Just ask Carmell Chambers, whose classmates at the Academy of St. Benedict the African, prayed for her when she was in the hospital last December.

“They got me a new heart,” said Carmell at an April 16 prayer service welcoming her back to school.

The spritely fifth-grader, who suffered from a congenital heart defect, became ill just before Thanksgiving, and in the weeks before Christmas was sedated at Lurie Children’s hospital, having been moved to the top of the list to receive a donor heart, according to her mother, Monique Chambers.

Deacon Leroy Gill visited Carmell when she was in the hospital. When she awoke and saw him, he said, her first words were, “Deacon, I saw you on TV,” he recalled. She had seen him when she watched the installation Mass of Archbishop Cupich, where Gill served as the deacon of the Eucharist.

Gill told her classmates about Carmell’s condition and asked them to pray. His heart was warmed, he said, when they all pulled out their rosaries. He also asked fifth-graders at St. Dorothy School to pray for Carmell, something they did every day.

The children also sent videos and cards to Carmell, so she would know they were thinking about her and praying for her, Chambers said.

Gill, who led the April 16 prayer service, talked about how prayer helps develop a relationship with God.

“You all are together all day, and then you go home, and you still talk on the phone to each other for hours,” he said. “God wants us to call on him, too. Whenever we call on God, he listens.”

On Dec. 21, her grandmother’s 60th birthday, Carmell received a new heart, only two and a half weeks after being put on the transplant list. After leaving the hospital for the nearby Ronald McDonald House, she returned home in late February and rejoined her classmates in school after Easter.

After returning home, Chambers said, Carmell was soon behaving like herself. She missed participating in hip-hop dance, cheerleading and choir, her mother said.

“She’s the kind of child who wants to be in everything,” Chambers said. “She has so much energy. She is never doing nothing. She has a good spirit.”

Once she began recovering from the heart transplant, she had even more energy, her mother said.

“Now she doesn’t even get tired,” Chambers said. “She’s like, ‘Wow, I have power.’”

The power of words failed her briefly when she got up to address her schoolmates, visiting fifthgraders from St. Dorothy and other guests at the prayer service celebrating her return. She stood in front of the congregation, looked around, and then said, “I just want to say thank-you to you all for praying for me.”

“What happened here is a miracle,” Gill said. “It’s good to see something good come to our community.”

Mike Partipilo, a junior at St. Patrick High School, can relate to how Carmell felt. He also had a heart transplant, his in April 2014. Partipilo, who has hopes of becoming a professional bowler, said that being able to return to the sport he loves helped speed his recovery.

Partipilo was still going through rehab when he returned to St. Patrick High School in the fall and asked to rejoin the bowling team. In 2014, before becoming ill, he had finished 18th in the state. After finding that Partipilo could indeed bowl, he rejoined the team.

“It was pretty important to me to get back and see my friends,” Partipilo said. “Nobody expected me to bowl this year.”

Partipilo, 17, said returning to the lanes was difficult. He bowls with a 14- or 15-pound ball, and it was hard for him to lift that weight, let alone throw it. At the beginning, he had to shorten his three-step approach to one step, before moving to two steps and finally back to three.

While he bowled with the team, he didn’t get a free pass. He had to become good enough to crack the roster of eight bowlers competing at matches.

“At first, he just stood at the line and rolled the ball,” said Brian Glorioso, St. Patrick’s athletic director. “He’s come a remarkably long way. When he first started, he couldn’t complete a game. He had to work his way back into the lineup.”

He missed the state finals this year, finishing the season with a 190 average. But signs are positive for next year, as he had a 204 average at the IHSA regionals at Habetler Bowl in January.

The son of a Chicago police lieutenant and a registered nurse, Partipilo hopes to pursue bowling as a career. The months after his transplant were by far the longest time he has gone without bowling since first picking up a ball at age nine.

Glorioso said that Partipilo offers a great example of persistence and determination to his teammates and to other students at the school.

“He’s a fine young man and this is a remarkable story,” Glorioso said.


  • catholic schools
  • academy of st. bendict the african
  • st. patrick high school
  • st. dorothy

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