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Teen who suffered stroke recovering despite long odds against him

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Posted at 9:51 PM, Jan 15, 2014
and last updated 2014-01-15 23:51:05-05

SALT LAKE CITY – A Real Salt Lake fan who suffered a stroke in 2012 after a soccer game has made a miraculous recovery.

Richie Jeffs was on a waiting list for a new heart, but somehow his heart found the strength to beat on its own again.

Some may think there's a celestial mystery as to how Richie's heart began beating on its own again, but certainly some of the credit belongs to the doctors at the University of Utah. His mother thinks Richie's stroke could be the start of his future, a future he wrote about just months before his heart failed.

"Speaking is hard, but listening like, all normal. Talking yes, but hard," said Richie Jeffs, who still struggles with his speech.

Jeffs’ mother, Gloria Sabuco Jeffs, spoke about the day her son’s health declined.

"2012, October 23rd, I remember the day because that's when he just text me and said he couldn't breathe well," she said.

The teenager was at a soccer match and wouldn't let his shortness of breath stop him from seeing the final score. By the end of the night, Richie was in the ICU at Primary's. His heart, ravaged by infection, gave out.

"His heart was massively enlarged, and it was just pumping a small amount of blood," said Dr. Craig Selzman, who is a surgeon at the University of Utah.

Doctors said the only way to save him was a heart pump. Richie was put on a waiting list for a transplant.

"The only normal option is to go ahead and get a heart transplant, take his bad one in, and get a new one--but there aren't enough hearts to go around,” Selzman said.

With only 20,000 hearts a year and 150,000 patients patiently holding out hope, the chances for a new heart were slim.

"We just hoped that, based on what the doctor said, that he's young, that he can recover," Gloria Sabuco Jeffs said.

Slowly, Richie's young heart, through therapy, medication and a great team of doctors, recovered.

"Cardio and then, and I'm better," said Richie, who still has a long way to go.

Despite the long road ahead, his mother believes there may be a greater meaning to all of this. She now holds a letter, which Richie wrote for a class assignment just nine months before his stroke, close to her heart.

Reading from the letter, she repeated a portion of Richie's letter: "When I grow up I want to be a cardiac surgeon; I have had my mind set on that since the 7th grade. I know I will accomplish this and will try my hardest to achieve it."

Richie's heart is fully functioning on its own again, although he's still recovering from his stroke as you heard. His speech and the right side of his body still needs time, but doctors think it's possible he can make a full recovery someday.