Community welcomes boy home after second heart transplant

Support for Team Gabe
(Source: KAIT)
(Source: KAIT)
(Source: KAIT)
(Source: KAIT)

BONO, AR (KAIT) - After spending over 100 days at Arkansas Children's Hospital in Little Rock, one Bono boy has a new heart.

Fifteen-year-old Gabriel Leon has been through a lot in his life.

He was diagnosed with Asperger syndrome at the age of 5 and has had two heart transplants.

His friends and loved ones showed him on Wednesday that they too have a heart for Gabe.

Shelly Milgrim is Gabe's aunt. She wanted her nephew to know how special he was to the community.

"He is a fighter," said Milgrim. "It is hard because you don't ever think that it is going to happen to your family."

Milgrim said family, friends, and loved ones have been Team Gabe since day one.

"Gabe, know that you are not battling this alone," said Milgrim. "If there is ever a day that you can't be strong, you have 500 people out here who are willing to be strong for you."

In 2011, Gabe had his first heart transplant, but in July his heart failed.

Now, 106 days after his second heart transplant, many gathered to welcome him home.

President of Walnut Ridge Underground CJ Sims said the event started from a simple card and grew to a bigger idea.

"Rumbling Around the Ridge and several others joined in making this special homecoming a reality," said Sims.

Sims said he wanted nothing more than to see a smile on Gabe's face and this was a great way to make that happen.

"I want him to be able to look back on this day and remember what we have done for him and that it wasn't just about a hospital stay," said Sims.

Sims and several others in the community escorted Gabe from Hoxie to Bono where he received gifts and greetings.

His mother, Melanie Leon-Fortson, said she was overwhelmed with joy knowing everything her son has been through.

"He's my hero," said Leon-Fortson. "He's a lot of people's hero. He's the strongest person I know and the bravest."

Leon-Fortson said words can't express how grateful she is for the donor family and to everyone for being so supportive.

"It is just amazing at how people who don't know each other can come together and support someone else that needs it," said Leon-Fortson.

As for Gabe, he said coming home to the amount of love from the community makes him very appreciative of life.

"Yes, life is not ready to let me go just yet," said Gabe. "I think I'll try to live a couple more years."

Gabe also said he wants everyone else out there facing an obstacle to always look on the bright side.

"Never give up, no matter what problem you are facing," said Gabe. "Know that there is always a happy ending."

In addition to his warm welcome, Barton's Lumber donated new flooring for Gabe's bedroom.

Copyright 2016 KAIT. All rights reserved.

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