Before he became Ironman, Josh Inghram was a typical 17-year-old. But on Feb. 27, 2012, Josh experienced stomach and chest pains. His parents, Vicky and Joe Inghram, thought it was nothing serious. They were wrong. Josh’s heart was failing. He was diagnosed with acquired idiopathic cardiomyopathy, meaning his heart had deteriorated for no known reason.
“We were kind of in shock,” said Vicky, Josh’s mother.
Josh, who lives in Molino, just north of Pensacola, grew sicker. After three months at UF Health Shands Children’s Hospital, he had emergency surgery as a temporary fix. Through a second surgery two days later, he was placed on the Berlin Heart, an external, mechanical heart specially designed for pediatric patients awaiting a heart transplant. The device is the only approved long-term pediatric treatment for Josh’s condition, said Josh’s surgeon, Mark Bleiweis, M.D., UF Health Congenital Heart Center director and principal cardiothoracic surgeon and UF College of Medicine surgery and pediatrics associate professor.
Still, Josh lived in the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit until he had a heart transplant six months later. It was during those months that the PICU staff fell in love with the teenage superhero, who earned the nickname Ironman.
“I asked the doctors to put in a heart like Ironman’s,” Josh joked. The nickname also comes from a passage in the Bible: Proverbs 27:17, which read, “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.”
Josh’s friends and family helped “sharpen” Josh by creating Project Ironman, a fundraiser to send Josh’s friends from back home in Molino to visit him in the hospital every weekend.
Vicky said Josh became close to many of the PICU staff members. When Josh first had emergency surgery, Josh Campbell, R.N., PICU nurse, was changing shifts. Instead of going home, though, Vicky said Campbell stayed a few extra hours to make sure Josh was ready for surgery. Andrea Agosta, R.N., would rub Josh’s feet and back on difficult nights. Patricia Baldwin, R.N., and staff member Joey Fletcher gave Josh emotional support. Kristan Jones, R.N., could motivate Josh to walk when no one else could. Vicky said Josh’s pediatric cardiologist, Jay Fricker, M.D., UF College of Medicine professor and chief of pediatric cardiology and UF pediatric heart transplant program medical director, surpassed expectations of patient care.
But Fricker, chief of pediatric cardiology for the UF College of Medicine, said Josh and his family are the ones who exceeded expectations.
“I never saw them doubt,” Fricker said. “Even if I did.”
Now, Josh is back in his hometown, being a regular 18-year-old, catching up on homework and getting ready to graduate on June 4. He recently attended his senior prom. As Josh moves on to the next chapter of his life, Josh’s family is thankful for everyone who helped get him there.
“Through God’s strength and grace,” said Vicky,” the staff at UF Health Shands and the donor family who blessed us with this precious gift, we were able to make it through our journey.” N&N