By Haley Vercruysse
The Tower (Grosse Pointe, Michigan)
“Now I see why I’m here … It’s because someone or something knew that I had the strength and courage to (go) through these challenges. It’s like an obstacle course. I know there is going to be a hard part to get through, but … I don’t know what to expect next. That’s the surprise. But, of course, (the obstacles) aren’t meant to be impossible, just challenging,” Alex Peabody ’16 captioned a recent Instagram post.
After a 17-year battle with various medical conditions, Alex, a double lung and heart transplant recipient, died in the hospital on Feb. 12.
“Alex did a lot of living in a short amount of time,” his mother Michelle Peabody said.
Born with a hole in his heart, Alex received a corrective surgery at the age of 3, his father James Peabody said. In spite of this, his heart gradually began to fail.
“Two years ago, New Years Eve, we stayed in New York City to see shows and to watch the ball drop. That’s when it came to light that something was not right physically,” Michelle said. “He was complaining of being cold. He persevered. He went to the shows and did everything, but we thought ‘something’s not right here’ and that’s when we called his cardiologist and they asked us to bring him in for another test, cardio catheterization. When he had that done they realized that the heart really was in dangerously bad shape.”
In the spring of 2013, Alex’s doctors decided that he needed a heart and double lung transplant, as stated on Alex’s Instagram. Two and a half weeks after being put on the donor waitlist, his doctors found a match and proceeded with the surgery.
Following the transplant, Alex experienced a host of new medical issues, including diabetes, limited lung function and lung inflammation.
“The diabetes was the big hurdle for him to get over,” James said. “He decided he was going to deal with it, and he was going to deal with it by getting an insulin pump.”
When the insulin pump arrived, Alex’s doctors insisted that he come in so they could help him set it up, James said. Instead, he took it upstairs, went on Youtube, and figured out how to load it and set it up himself.
“He wasn’t going to let other people tell him no when he knew he was perfectly capable of doing it,” Michelle said.
Although homeschooling was an option, and is typically the route taken by transplant recipients, Alex chose to continue with public schooling after the operation, Michelle said.
“He was driven,” Michelle said. “After he had his transplant, he caught up the last quarter of freshman year in the hospital and by going to North to finish his studies, and he came out with a 3.9 or a 4.0.”
In part because of his limitations, Alex considered going to school a privilege, Michelle said. His travels also contributed to this attitude; by 17, Alex had been to many countries within Europe, Asia and South America. Seeing how people in other countries live made him realize how fortunate he was to live in Grosse Pointe and attend South.
“He wanted more school spirit,” Michelle said. “He didn’t like that kids weren’t interested or supportive of their high school when they’re not recognizing the fact of how fortunate they are.”
For Alex, getting to school each morning took a lot of energy and though he may have seemed tired, he was happy to be there, as stated on his Instagram.
I really want people to notice how lucky they are not to have to go through the things that us medically challenged have to go through. But really, we are all fighters in our own way.
As a result of his surgeries, Alex experienced a fair amount of physical pain, James said. He underwent a series of treatments, ranging from acupuncture to hypnotherapy, to help manage it.
“There were so many bad things that happened to him, but he looked at the positive side and he always found a way to help other people before himself,” Alex’s longtime friend Alyssa Campbell ’16 said.
Using Instagram, Peabody was able to connect with other kids in similar situations, Campbell said. He encouraged them to keep a positive outlook in spite of their illnesses.
“He was very responsive to these kids if they were worried or concerned,” Michelle said. “He would talk about their family, their siblings, the procedures they were going through. He dropped what he was doing just to respond to these kids.”
Regardless of how he felt, Alex cared for and thought of others, Campbell said. The day Peabody was released from a Pittsburgh hospital, he unexpectedly showed up to support Campbell at one of her performances.
The pain can only slow me down, nothing can hold me back.
Only four months after his transplant, Alex participated in a 35-mile bike ride that benefitted Henry Ford Hospital. The following February he skied at Vail in Colorado.
“Even with all the other stuff he was dealing with, all the medical stuff that was going on … he still tried to do things and keep active,” James said.
An aspiring physician, Alex idolized his father, who is a surgeon at Henry Ford Hospital, Michelle said. He loved to visit his father at work and participated in Biology Club at South.
In addition to Biology Club, Alex was involved in student council, Ski High through the War Memorial, South’s marching and pep bands, and the chamber orchestra.
“When we were going down to the hospital the last time … he said ‘I don’t know what I want to do this spring. I really want to play harp in the pit for Mary Poppins. I also want to go out for the sailing team. I don’t know if I could do both of those things, so I have to make a decision’,” James said. “Even though he was feeling lousy, he was still looking for the next thing to do.”
Alex had a broad range of hobbies and interests, including biking, skiing, knitting, music and the care of animals.
Though he pursued many interests, music was Alex’s primary passion, James said.
“He kept doing his music despite being so sick,” James said. “He was in the ICU, plugged up to seven different IV drips, on oxygen, and we have pictures of him playing the harp.”
While in the hospital, Alex would perform in room concerts for the staff, Michelle said.
“People would come and sit in the room as he played because they were pretty inspired,” Michelle said.
Able to play over 10 instruments, Alex was the jack of all trades in music, Michelle said. Of the many instruments he played, however, he had only received formal lessons in three: piano, cello and harp.
Earning a “Superior” rating for his cello and harp performances, he participated in the Solo and Ensemble Festival the Saturday before being admitted to the hospital.
His many music awards are currently on display in the former Sweet Sixteen showcase, located on the second floor of the many building. The showcase was redecorated over midwinter break by the Class of 2016 Council in memory of Alex, Class President Margaret Sohn ’16 said.
The council is currently discussing ways to further honor Alex, Sohn said. As is the Peabody family.
If an individual is looking to make a donation in Alex’s memory, the family suggests giving to the heart and lung transplant community of Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh, the Civic Youth Ensemble or South’s band and orchestra program.
“After the surgery, he was more determined to make a difference,” Michelle said. “He wanted to make people aware of being donors, especially at the high school level, when kids are getting their license. It’s not really something anybody wants to think about … so Alex wanted to make kids aware and parents aware of it (the Donate Life movement) and knock the stigma of ignoring it.”
Photo Credit: Peabody Family