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KNOXVILLE — Nykia Babb had just finished the UT LEAD Summer Institute and was starting her freshman year at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, in August when she started to feel sick and tired.

One night, the 18-year-old woke up barely able to breathe and her older sister, UT senior Khadija Babb, took her to UT Medical Center.

Doctors prescribed medication for a heart problem triggered by a genetic defect. Nykia returned to school and tried to resume her normal schedule. But by late October, she was getting worse, and doctors in Nashville — her hometown — determined her heart was damaged beyond repair.

On Nov. 20, Nykia underwent a heart transplant at Saint Thomas Hospital in Nashville.

“Doctors told me I probably wouldn’t have made it another week,” she said on Dec. 1, a few minutes before she was discharged from the hospital.

Nykia said the UT LEAD Summer Institute gave her a great taste of college before she got sick. The pilot program brought 55 incoming freshmen, most Promise Scholarship recipients, to live and study at UT Knoxville for five weeks during the summer.

Despite her excitement about beginning the school year, Nykia’s health problems forced her to withdraw from UT this semester. She will spend the next three months recuperating at home, but she hopes to return to UT in the fall of 2009.

Though she started as a child and family studies major with plans to become a counselor, she now thinks she might want to be a registered nurse.

A basketball and volleyball star in high school, she also hopes to get healthy and strong enough to play volleyball at UT.

For now, though, Nykia is focusing on taking it one day at a time.

“My Thanksgiving was wonderful,” she said. “We had dinner at the hospital, and we had a big cake and balloons. We watched football and laughed and joked. We were very happy and thankful.”

Before she was discharged from the hospital, Nykia was interviewed by a Nashville TV station because it’s rare for a person so young to need a heart transplant. View that story at: http://www.wsmv.com/video/18182292/index.html.

According to the American Heart Association, there were 2,192 heart transplants performed in the United States in 2006 and 2,125 in 2005 — although there probably would have been more had a greater number of donated hearts been available. More than half of transplant recipients were between the ages of 50 and 64; another 20 percent were between the ages of 35 and 49.

Nykia said she’s willing to share her story because it’s her way of giving back; it gives her the chance to encourage people to become organ donors and live life to the fullest.

“I know I’m thankful for having life today,” she said. “I’m not going to take the days for granted.”

A graduate of Maplewood High School in Nashville, Nykia is the daughter of Nieta Babb and the granddaughter of Betty Babb, both of Nashville.


Amy Blakely, (865) 974-5034, amy.blakely@tennessee.edu