This story is part of a series of graduate profiles ahead of Commencement ceremonies in May.
When Jon Hochstein learned that he had matched at Boston Children’s Hospital for his medical residency program, he let his family know. Then he told his other family — Christopher’s family.
“He texted me as soon as he got word that he got his residency there in Boston,” said April Hough, Christopher’s sister. “He texted me, ‘I got Boston,’ and [it’s important] just to know that, just to know that such a huge part of my brother lives on and allows this human to continue to do amazing things.”
Hochstein is graduating this spring from Harvard Medical School, but 23 years ago he was a 4-year-old lying in a bed at Salt Lake City’s Primary Children’s Hospital. It was February 1999, and Hochstein had been there for months, his heart failing after what had seemed a routine case of the flu. His family was growing desperate. He kept getting weaker and needed a heart transplant, but weeks had passed and no heart had become available.
“Seeing your son get last rites,” Hochstein’s father, David, said. “Yeah, there were a few times when I thought we might lose him.”
The day before, Christopher Brazell had been crossing the street in front of his school in Wendover, Utah, when a pickup truck hit him. He was airlifted to Primary Children’s, where the doctors told his mother, Elizabeth Tilly, that he wasn’t going to make it. They asked whether she would consider donating his organs, and she initially refused. But as she walked the halls of Primary Children’s, wrestling with her thoughts, she saw a boy in bed, his small feet sticking out from under a blanket. When she asked what was wrong, a nurse told her he was waiting on a heart transplant. That changed her mind.
The two families never met in the hospital. Hochstein recovered from the surgery and went on to what he describes as a largely normal childhood. He had to take anti-rejection medication but was able to run and play with his younger brother, Mike, and friends from school. His mother, Barbara, insisted he take responsibility for his health, Hochstein said, and taught him to swallow pills at age 6, and, a few years later, fill his own pill containers. The family insisted that he was neither fragile nor suffering, but rather blessed. It was an attitude he absorbed, one that helped him through the larger challenges he would face as well as the heightened daily uncertainties of a transplant recipient.
“He was active; he did things; we went places. We always pushed him to try things,” said Barbara Hochstein. “We did not try to keep him in a bubble. We really tried to embrace it as the gift that it is, as opposed to being very protective.”