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4-year-old Pinellas student gets a new heart, doesn’t miss a beat in school

LARGO, Fla. — A Pinellas County 4-year-old just received a life-changing gift… a heart transplant.Despite spending weeks in a Gainsville hospital, VPK student Sean Walsh is finding ways to connect with his teachers and friends at Anona Elementary School in Largo.From his hospital bed, 4-year-old Sean greets his classmates nearly every morning.“Hi!” he exclaims over video chat.Sean is seen smiling from ear to ear in the virtual classroom as his classmates eagerly wave to the laptop in their classroom.Julie Nibert, Sean’s VPK teacher, says she is always blown away by the 4-year-old’s energy.“He’s just got the best spirit. He’s so smart and bright and really caring and you can see that even though he’s got these wires and difficult things are going on, he’s always ready for whatever we are teaching,” she said with a smile.Sean started the school year in person at Anona Elementary, but a few weeks ago, a heart condition from birth landed him in the hospital and on a transplant waitlist.Sean’s mom says her son was born with Hypoplastic Left Heart Syndrome (HLHS). It is a congenital heart defect, and by the age of four and a half, her son has had 3 open-heart surgeries.Sean went into heart failure about a month ago. This week, however, his family received the best news. Sean was next in line for a heart transplant.Wednesday’s surgery was a success and his little heart is beating beautifully, according to his mom.“It was really hard to not let those tears flow when we found out. It was so exciting,” Nibert elaborated.Sean’s VPK teachers Jen Bryant and Julie Nibert are thrilled. The charismatic teachers are making sure Sean hasn’t missed a beat in the classroom.“We’ve got the computer and we’re taking Sean to each child and even with their masks up and everything you can see those cheeks raise, those eyes light up. They’re like ‘Hi Sean! I miss you. I love you!’” Bryant added.Bryant and Nibert aren’t sure when Sean will be ready to come back in person, but they’re beyond anxious to welcome him back.“His seat is always here. His seat is saved until he’s ready,” Bryant said.Sean is currently being cared for at Shands Hospital in Gainesville. Teachers and staff at Anona Elementary have started a toy drive to send items to Sean in the hospital to send him some cheer while he recovers from surgery.“He’s a tough little cookie,” Bryant said. “This little four and a half-year-old has been through a lot and to see his spirit, it’s just amazing.”

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