LOMA LINDA, Calif. — When Maj. Hal Sellers learned his infant son was living on borrowed time awaiting a heart transplant, the Marine and his wife had to choose between duty to family and to nation.
Should he stay and aid his critically ill son, or help lead his battalion as it readied for a looming war in the Middle East? Sellers "did a lot of soul-searching," said his wife, Betsy Sellers:
Since there was nothing he could do to help 4-month-old Dillon, Sellers, 37, chose to help his military unit.
"It was a hard decision to make," Betsy Sellers, also 37, said Monday. "He had to come to the hospital and say goodbye to Dillon, and not know what would happen."
A little more than a week after Sellers left, Dillon has only days to live unless he receives a new heart.
"I am doing what I have to do, and my husband is doing what he has to do," Betsy Sellers said. "We're doing what we need to do for our family and, hopefully, for other families."
Dillon was 10 days old when he was diagnosed Oct. 31 with Hypoplastic Left Heart Syndrome, which occurs when a heart is unable to pump or circulate blood. Although the condition can sometimes be corrected with surgery, Dillon's heart is too damaged, doctors say.
Dillon has been placed at the top of the heart transplant list at Loma Linda University Medical Center, transplant coordinator Armando Deamaya said. It was not immediately clear where Dillon has been placed on the list by the United Network for Organ Sharing. The medical center has a 25-percent mortality rate for those awaiting transplants.
"Every day could be an end-of-life issue for him," Deamaya said. "We're probably talking days rather than weeks."
As the family struggled with Dillon's diagnosis, the Marines offered Sellers a desk job at the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center in Twentynine Palms, a small desert town 140 miles east of Los Angeles.
But the 13-year veteran is second-in-command of the 3rd Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion, and had trained for months to deploy to the Middle East. His wife said ultimately he was concerned about bringing in a new member so late in the training.
"I think this situation sheds light in a very tangible way on the sacrificial nature of service to country. While no one would want to be in the major's position, we understand the difficulties," said Capt. Rob Crum, a base spokesman.
The major's mother, Betty Sellers, said the family supported her son's decision.
"We didn't say, 'Hal, do this or do that.' We tried to convey the message that Dillon was getting the best possible care he could have, and maybe Hal had to do in life what he could do best," she said in a telephone interview from her home in Des Moines, Iowa.
Lying in a crib at the medical center, Dillon breathes with the help of a ventilator as tubes snake from his chest, arms and legs. A patch from Sellers' unit, known as the Wolf Pack, is among the pictures and stuffed animals decorating Dillon's crib.
The baby was listed in critical condition Monday.
On Sunday, Sellers called home from an undisclosed location for an update on Dillon.
His wife delivered a message to their son: "Daddy loves you."
On the Net: United Network for Organ Sharing: www.unos.org
U.S. Marine Corps: www.usmc.mil