My name is Nick Ripke. I was born on Nov. 24, 2005, in China. When I was 2 years old, I was adopted by an amazing and loving family here in Wisconsin. Unfortunately, I was born with several heart defects that greatly impacted my life. I had multiple surgeries before and after my adoption that left me with what I like to call, “Warrior Scars.” They remind me that, yes, I'm not like everyone else, but I continue to push through all the challenges and difficulties because I know they make me stronger.
At school, I lived a relatively normal life, but the elephant in the room popped up occasionally. I was living my life at 70 percent oxygen, which prevented me from keeping up with my friends when participating in physical activities and going out for sports. My heart would start racing, which led to shortness of breath and lightheadedness. I feared I would never fit in. However, my passion for teamwork and community overpowered my condition. I found other ways to participate in school and extracurriculars, such as musicals and art. In sixth grade, I got the opportunity to become the office manager of our boys’ basketball team. My passion for basketball took off as well as my ability to connect with my classmates. I was more than just the “sick boy.” I was different, but I became part of a family.
I’ve been a frequent patient of Children’s Wisconsin for as long as I can remember. I had visits to the Herma Heart Institute three times a year that included ECHOs, stress tests and regular checkups to monitor my heart progress. I’ve had some amazing nurses and doctors on my team throughout the years. I can always count on them to make the right decisions. Some kids are scared to go to the doctor. Not me. Children’s Wisconsin is like a second home. A place to recover and get better. The staff makes me feel like a part of their team. Even during procedures and surgery, I’ve always felt comfortable and confident in the amazing doctors.
When I got to high school, my heart was stable, but it wasn’t improving. That is when the idea of a heart transplant was first brought up. By the start of my sophomore year, my care team determined a transplant was the best option for my future. My parents and I had an appointment with the entire transplant team, and my journey soon began. In Dec. 2021, I was officially put on the transplant list. It was a long four months of patiently waiting.
On Thursday, April 14, 2022, my parents got a call at 2 in the morning that a match had been found. I needed to get to the hospital immediately. When my parents woke me up and told me the news, I couldn’t believe it was real. I was overcome with so many emotions. The actual surgery was to take place the following morning. The entire day before, doctors explained the full process and made me feel comfortable — like I was home. I wasn’t afraid of the surgery. I was confident with the team knowing the outcome would give me a normal life.
At 6:30 a.m. on Friday, April 15, I said goodbye to my parents. They were crying, but I reassured them everything would be okay. I believed in the doctors and trusted in the surgeons. After more than 13 hours, my parents were notified that the surgery was successful. I was wheeled back into my room for recovery. Recovery was difficult for me, and I often got down on myself for not doing enough. But the team reassured me that everything was going as planned — and that I was ahead of schedule. This motivated me to push through all the pain. Even though I loved the team at Children’s Wisconsin, my biggest goal was to get home as soon as possible. And just 17 days later, I was released from the hospital.
It’s been a little over a year since my transplant, and I am overjoyed to say that my second life is full of managing basketball, doing musicals and hanging out with friends. I can keep up with my friends instead of having them wait for me or being left behind. This amazing journey and opportunity couldn’t have been fulfilled without the incredible team at Children's Wisconsin. They made me feel like family. They're a community that does an outstanding job of providing comfort and happiness for all people. I am so blessed and thankful for everyone who was a part of my journey, and my heart can’t wait for the next adventure.
I’m thrilled to be part of the WKLH Miracle Marathon for Children’s Wisconsin presented by Mars Family Foundation this year. Listen to the Miracle Marathon live on 96.5 WKLH and WKLH.com May 18-19 to hear incredible stories from kids and families just like me, who have received life-saving and life-changing care from Children’s Wisconsin.