MILFORD — The tests of life can throw people into loops, and for Milford’s Todd and Lauren French, this week has been an emotional roller coaster ride they would be thrilled to emerge from.
The married couple, both teachers at Benjamin Banneker Elementary School in their native Milford, are facing unbelievable challenges: Mr. French, 40, was scheduled to receive a heart transplant Tuesday at Penn Hospital in Philadelphia, and his wife is due to give birth to the couple’s second child — a daughter — Wednesday.
Diagnosed with sarcoidosis — a rare inflammatory disease that can affect any organ but is especially bad in the heart — around seven years ago, Mr. French was recently added to the national transplant list as a status 2 patient, which typically implies a one- to two-month waiting period.
But he received good news Monday: A heart had quickly become available, and his procedure was planned for the next day.
That update was shared by Ms. French on a GoFundMe page organized for the couple: “We’ve never seen this happen ... words from Todd’s (medical) team this morning. There isn’t one heart for Todd, there are two. His heart transplant will happen in the next 48 hours. The answer to so many prayers.
“Two weeks ago, on Sunday night, I saw Todd in the worst pain of his life as his (pacemaker/defibrillator) device shocked him again and again. Last night, two weeks to the day, we got a call that he was the backup to receive a heart. They explained it is rare for the backup to actually get the heart. Fast forward to this morning ... there are two hearts available. Please begin to pray so hard. This procedure is huge ... life changing. A heart and a baby in one week. Never in our wildest dreams.”
Part of that dream, however, was crushed Tuesday morning, as the heart chosen for transplantation was deemed unsuitable. And the other had been allocated to another patient.
Mr. French was subsequently put back on the waiting list.
All the while, Ms. French was preparing for the birth of the couple’s daughter.
It has been one incredible heartache after another for the Frenches, their growing family and their friends, spread out all across the country.
“The whole journey has been very emotional for everybody, of course,” said Carly Johann, a resident of Los Angeles who became friends with Mr. French at Milford High School in the 1990s. “Just the last couple of days with (Todd) getting placed on the transplant list and (then,) there were two hearts available, and then, ... the heart was deemed not good enough for transplant. So now, he’s back to waiting.
“It’s been a very emotional couple of days, and I can’t imagine what they’re going through, just being a friend on the outside looking in. We’re all kind of dumbstruck with how happy we all were (Monday) and then how sad we are (Tuesday). We’re trying to look forward and think all of the positive thoughts we can. The timing of all of this is pretty wild, and what a week it is for their family.”
Aaron Brown, a friend of the Frenches' who lives in Tampa, Florida, but grew up in Milford, said the GoFundMe page raised $20,000 within its first 24 hours. As of Tuesday afternoon, it sat at $30,987 out of the $100,000 goal.
“For years, we’ve just always had a tightknit group of friends,” Mr. Brown said. “Some have stayed local in Delaware, while others have spread all around the country, but we converse weekly.
“So as all of this has been going on for the last few years, there’s always been that unknown out there with what was going on with Todd’s health, and now, it’s kind of come to a head, and it’s been difficult. But it’s been extremely uplifting to see the support that’s come out for the family.”
Sarcoidosis has led to the need for a device to be implanted in Mr. French’s chest, which keeps his heart beating correctly.
It has also led to countless stays in the hospital and helicopter rides to Penn, as well as multiple surgeries and ablations, during which doctors burn parts of the heart to make scar tissue in hopes to create normal rhythms.
The disease also forced Mr. French to step down as Milford High School’s eight-year varsity soccer coach after the 2020 season.
It was that sport that led to the friendship between Mr. French and Ms. Johann.
“He was on the Milford soccer team, as was I, and I was a goalie for the girls’ team, and he spent a lot of nights and weekends working with me, trying to help me learn that position,” she said. “So he was already coaching back then, when we were in high school, and he went on to coach and teach in the same district.”
For now, Mr. French will continue to be hospitalized at Penn, where he is being looked after by some of the best doctors in the country.
Meanwhile, Ms. French is ready to bring their daughter into the family some time Wednesday. She will join brother Teddy, age 3.
“It’s difficult being far away because you’re doing the phone game and receiving information as it gets passed from party to party,” said Mr. Brown. “It’s hard to keep up on stuff and to be involved. We’re all just trying to pull for them as much as we can.
“I can’t imagine the mental fortitude that (Ms. French) has to be able to handle this. I’m awestruck that she’s managing it and keeping people in the loop and everything else. It’s pretty incredible. I can’t ever hope to better understand what she’s going through,” he added.
Given their medical procedures this week, the Frenches were not available for an interview.
For updates and to consider a donation, visit the couple’s GoFundMe page at gofund.me/063e1860.