Merna Blood Drive in Honor of Heart Transplant Recipient, 12-year-old Ayden Duryea

MERNA—A Custer County youth has undergone multiple open heart surgeries and is the recent recipient of a new heart. A very special blood drive is taking place on Thursday, August 13 at the Merna Community Center (428 E Center Ave, Merna, NE 68856) to honor 12-year-old heart transplant recipient, Ayden Duryea.

The blood drive will take place from 1 to 7 p.m. Call Lea Ann Winchester at 308-643-7205 to make an appointment or visit

“It’s huge. Our family has always been big blood donors, even more so with everything that Ayden has gone through. It’s huge and it’s just awesome that the community is coming together in honor of Ayden. He is an amazing kid and we’re very proud of him,” Erin Duryea said.

12-year-old Ayden Duryea, recent heart transplant recipient from Merna. Blood drive being held in his honor on August 13. Photo courtesy Erin Duryea.

According to Ayden’s mom, Erin Duryea, Ayden was born with a heart defect called hypoplactic left heart syndrome, which means the left side of his heart was under developed. He had his first open-heart surgery when he was seven days old, a second surgery when he was six months old, then another at four years old. Erin told KCNI/KBBN Ayden did really well for quite a few years but then developed protein losing enteropathy at age six, which affected his heart.

In March of 2020 it was decided to consider a heart transplant and Ayden was put on a waiting list in May. Erin said after 52 days of waiting, the family received the call at 3 p.m. in the afternoon on July 13 that Ayden had a new heart. He received the transplant two days later.

In an interview with KCNI/KBBN while driving back to the Children’s Hospital in Omaha, Erin Duryea said the original surgery went great and Ayden was discharged from the hospital 11 days later and then stayed at the nearby Rainbow House rather than traveling back to Custer County.

Ayden’s biopsy revealed an antibody rejection to the new heart so he was readmitted to the hospital and underwent plasma treatments. He had a heart cath on Wednesday morning and Erin said the family is anxiously awaiting results of this next biopsy and hoping to beat the rejection!

“He is the most positive kid in the world. Throughout this whole ordeal he has kept that smile on his face and he has remained positive,” Erin said of Ayden who is ready to get home and misses his friends. Erin said Ayden will not be able to attend school for a few months.

Erin said only one parent is allowed to stay at the hospital with Ayden at a time due to COVID-19. She and her husband, Adam, have been taking turns. Ayden’s younger brother, Trevor, recently started school and Erin said the family has been doing well but it has definitely been a stressful time with many trips back and forth to Omaha and dealing with COVID-19 restrictions on top of everything else.

“I just want to say thank you to everybody who has organized this blood drive and for everybody out there who has kept us in their thoughts and prayers and have been cheering us on through this journey. It means the absolute world to us, so thank you,” Erin Duryea said.