Becoming a Warrior: Mykal Lewis’s Story of Growing Up With a Heart Transplant
Mykal Lewis may have only been two-months old when he had his heart transplant, but he’s always felt the impact of it.
“My mother was very overprotective. I couldn’t really play any sports. I remember taking very nasty medication, going to doctor’s appointments, getting lab work,” Mykal said. “That’s kind of just been my life. In the hospital.”
Despite his health problems, Mykal had plans and dreams, which included going to college. When the question of how to offset the cost of tuition came up, Mykal’s transplant social worker had a suggestion: Georgia Transplant Foundation’s Academic Scholarship Program.
“Before I started going to school my transplant team at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta told me to look into it to see if [GTF] could help with funds towards school,” Mykal said. “I wasn’t nervous, except the normal fear of them possibly saying no.”
Mykal’s work paid off, GTF approved his application and he received the Calkins scholarship. Mykal is now a junior at Kennesaw State University studying Integrated Health Science. Once he graduates, travel is at the top of his priority list.
“Honestly, my longterm dream is to be a professional chef. I want to work on a cruise ship or for someone famous and travel internationally. Either a travel chef or a travel nurse,” Mykal said. “France, Italy, Spain, California, wherever Gordan Ramsey is.”
Mykal has come a long way. A childhood and adolescence full of health concerns and doctor’s visits left an impact, and Mykal has to remind himself of his strength..
“Growing up it kind of took a mental toll on me, but you just step back and realize you’re still here after everything you’ve been through,” Mykal said. “It hurts mentally, but at the same time it’s empowering.”
One of Mykal’s most powerful experiences with GTF has been meeting the endowers of his scholarship, the Calkins, who tragically lost their son to the same illness Mykal is fighting.
“I remember their son’s name was Michael too,” Mykal said. “Meeting them face to face, thanking them for the opportunity, and thanking them for the support really bonded us. It made me feel special. It made me feel honored. I was just entirely grateful to be in their presence.”
Knowing that the Calkins lost a child is painful for Mykal, but he also knows that their shared experiences makes the connection incredibly meaningful.
“Hearing their story about their son made me emotional, but I told them about my story and about what I’ve been through,” Mykal said. “Bonding with them really empowered me and made me feel thankful to be here.”
Although he works to stay positive and resilient, Mykal doesn’t always feel as strong as people say he is.
“All the time I hear from people [I’ve told] what I’ve been through, ‘I can’t believe you’re still smiling’, ‘I can’t believe how positive you are’, ‘you’re the strongest person I’ve ever known’,” Mykal said. “Sometimes, if I’m being real, I can’t believe it. Sometimes I realize: wow, they’re right.”
Mykal has had more than his fair share of challenges in life, but he firmly believes that he wouldn’t be given these obstacles if he couldn’t overcome them.
“When you ask the higher power for a stepping stone he’s not going to just give it to you. He’s gonna make you work for it,” Mykal said. “He says he gives his toughest battles to his strongest soldiers, so I’m definitely a warrior.”
Georgia Transplant Foundation offers academic scholarships annually to students under the age of 22 who are transplant recipients, dependents of a transplant recipient, parents or siblings of a transplant recipient, or living donors. Applications are due May 1st. Visit gatransplant.org/our-programs/education-community-programs/academic-scholarships for more information!