Spotlight: Michael Henry Calkins Memorial Scholarship

Michael Calkins entered the world with a heart condition that demanded immediate attention. Born with hypoplastic left heart syndrome on June 28, 1993, his journey began with his first surgery at just four days old. Despite undergoing several surgeries to mitigate complications, it became evident that Michael would require a heart transplant. On October 31, 1995, he underwent the life-saving procedure, but it marked just the beginning of a tumultuous medical odyssey. 

Over his 12 years, Michael would undergo a staggering 28 surgeries, each fraught with its own set of challenges. Despite the complications from his condition, medications, and treatments, Michael remained a beacon of resilience and joy. His mother (and current Georgia Transplant Foundation (GTF) Board President), Melanie, remembers him as “a happy, gregarious kid and a fighter.” 

Meeting “The Mayor”

Despite the hurdles he faced medically, Michael’s infectious charm and captivating appearance, with his striking red hair and adorable features, endeared him to all who crossed his path. At school, his magnetic personality and insistence on going by his full name, Michael Henry Calkins, earned him the affectionate nickname “The Mayor”. He effortlessly forged friendships throughout his school with kids from every grade level. 

Melanie remembers his “perfect smile and big blue eyes [that would] capture people the minute they came into his sphere.” “He became a little media star,” Melanie shared. He did a story on Good Morning Atlanta, got a picture with then-Georgia Governor Roy Barnes. Not to mention he was on the front page of the Marietta Daily Journal. “It seemed like the entire state of Georgia loved and supported him.” 

Honoring Michael’s Mind

Complications from Michael’s procedures included a stroke and ADHD which left him with a learning disability. Due to his disability, Michael was in a special education program, however, his extreme intelligence was apparent. Despite being known as something of a mischief-maker, (Melanie recalls the glee he felt after pulling the school fire alarm), school was always important to Michael. Thus, when the opportunity was presented to his family to honor him through the GTF academic scholarship program, it seemed like an obvious way to maintain his legacy. 

Melanie shared that it was a chance to honor Michael’s memory while helping others who have the intelligence and desire to push forward and pursue secondary education but who may also have external transplant-related factors holding them back. “Like everything else that GTF provides, this scholarship bridges a gap that they face and helps to enrich their lives.” 

Sharing Michael’s Light

Scholarship recipient Ian Herbst

On the scholarship committee, Melanie favors heart transplant patients for Michael’s scholarship, particularly those who were transplanted as kids. If there are no candidates with that criteria, she instead looks for the dependent of a heart transplant patient. Former Michael Henry Calkins Memorial Scholarship recipient Ian Herbst shares that the financial relief the scholarship has provided him allows him to “spend dedicated time [on his] courses, attend study groups, attend lectures,” and focus solely on his education. Because of the scholarship, Ian is on track to fulfill his dream of “[becoming] a pharmacist one day.”

Michael’s story of resilience resonates with anyone who’s dealt with organ transplantation. Despite the difficulties he faced, he never let it dim the light inside him, which shined so bright. Through the Michael Henry Calkins Memorial Scholarship, he continues to pass that light on to other members of the transplant community who need it. 

To learn more about GTF’s Academic Scholarship Program and to apply, please visit Academic Scholarships | Georgia Transplant Foundation (