Heart transplant patient finds safety in Boy Scouts

The Paducah SunJuly 13, 2009 

PADUCAH — Mitchell Overby remembers the day he received a phone call that changed his life.

He was sitting at his grandfather's house in Marshall County when he learned that he would receive a new heart. His parents weren't home, and he had to get word to them that they had just four hours to make it from Benton to Nashville for the operation.

"I was calm during the entire thing," Overby said. "People ask me if I was nervous, and I wasn't."

Overby, 18, was born with a congenital heart defect and underwent three surgeries before his first birthday. Doctors monitored his health closely, and he underwent a heart catheterization at age 15. A year after Overby was told he would need a heart transplant, he underwent one on Feb. 3, 2008, and returned to his Marshall County home on March 22, his 17th birthday.

"After that, people asked if I felt different, and I said no," Overby said.

The one constant in his life through his entire health battle was Boy Scouts. He joined the Cub Scouts in 1997 as a Tiger and became a member of Boy Scout Troop 422.

"His heart slowed him down but never stopped him," said Denise Boaz, a district scouting director. "Scouting was his safe zone — no teasing or insults."

Scouting allowed Overby to develop his own form of quiet leadership. Now an Eagle Scout and a graduate of Marshall County High School, he decided to remain as the assistant Scoutmaster for Troop 422.

He earned his Eagle Scout badge this past spring, when he prepared meals for the staff at the Ronald McDonald House in Nashville. Mitchell chose to return the favor they extended him and his family during his time of need.

"They don't fix meals," he said. "They get people to sign up to do the meals. I was thinking that it would be a nice way to give back to them."

Overby and his family stayed at the Ronald McDonald House six weeks after his transplant. He saw firsthand their need for supplies, and he arranged for a donation. Overby also coordinated a fund-raiser with several troops near Nashville.

"I thought it was pretty cool," said Brandon Hayes, 15, a fellow troop member. "It kind of fit Mitchell. He does what he can to help."

Overby's older sister, Michelle Overby, 20, said her brother's project fit with the message behind Scouting. "He gave a message of hope," she said. "I was proud of him that he chose that route as opposed to doing something different."

Overby earned his Eagle Scout honor in May, adding to his collection of 32 merit badges and his membership in the Order of the Arrow, an honor society within Scouting.

He enjoys many of the other activities as other scouts at camp, but his status as a heart transplant patient will not allow him to swim or engage in physically demanding activities. Nonetheless, he completed the requirements for his hiking merit badge in March, completing a 20-mile hike in nine hours, Boaz said.

"There's not a whole lot that shows that there's something wrong with my brother," Michelle Overby said. "He'd tire out a little quicker. When he was younger, he used it to his advantage and said, 'You can't pick on me.'"

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