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BALTIMORE - When Amari Hall went through his fifth heart surgery in 15 years in March, his family prayed that it would finally be his last.
The Maryland teenager, who was born with hypoplastic left heart syndrome, underwent a transplant to replace his own failing heart. In the months since the surgery, he has become a viral sensation, thanks to video his aunt, Charawn Hunter, shot of him dancing in celebration of his new chance at life.
Amari’s impromptu dancing came just six days after his transplant, his family told CNN.
“We put the music on, and he started dancing,” Hunter said.
Nurses caring for Amari joined in on the video, which Hunter posted to her Facebook page last month for friends inspired by the “awesome Amari.”
“We would like the world to see how awesome he is,” Hunter wrote. “He loves LeBron, but I know he’s busy, but please help me (in) making his video go viral.”
Go viral it did, with the video seen more than six million times as of this week.
Hunter continued to post videos of Amari’s progress, including one on May 22, when he was released from the University of Maryland’s Children’s Hospital in Baltimore.
“Amari’s breaking out of the hospital,” Hunter wrote on Facebook.
The video shows members of Amari’s medical team telling him goodbye. There were plenty of hugs, tears, laughter -- and dancing.
“Thank you, everybody. Y’all have been very nice to me. I love you, all of y’all,” Amari said. “I’m gonna miss all of y’all.”
“We love you, too,” a woman said off-camera.
‘All his life, he has been a fighter’
Amari first showed signs of his congenital heart defect two days after his birth. A profile of Amari by Save the Heartbeat, a non-profit organization dedicated to improving the lives of those born with heart defects, indicated that a doctor noticed his unusual breathing as he was being discharged.
Doctors at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia found that the newborn had hypoplastic left heart syndrome (HLHS), a condition in which the left side of a person’s heart is underdeveloped.
According to Save the Heartbeat, a healthy heart works like this: The right side of the heart pumps oxygen-depleted blood from the heart to the lungs, which fill it with oxygen. The left side of the heart then pumps the oxygen-rich blood to the rest of the body, which uses that oxygen to survive.
A newborn’s heart has two small openings that allow blood to move between the two sides of the heart during gestation, but those holes close within days of birth.
In a baby with HLHS, blood can bypass the underdeveloped left side of the heart through those openings. When they close, the heart can no longer properly send oxygenated blood to the rest of the body, and the child begins showing symptoms of the defect, which include strained breathing, trouble feeding and an ashy or dusky appearance.
Amari had the first of his heart surgeries to save his life at 5 days old, Save the Heartbeat’s profile said. He had multiple additional surgeries before his second birthday.
“He missed a lot of his childhood milestones,” his mother, Juaquinna Hall, told CNN.
Through multiple hospitalizations, missed school and being away from home and his peers, Amari has remained positive, she said.
“All his life, he has been a fighter,” Hall said.
Hall recounted the doctor’s visit in December, in which she and her son learned that his troubled heart was failing.
“He looked at me, and he said, ‘What are you afraid of? It’s my time. I need to have this done,’” Hall told CNN.
It took three months for doctors to find a compatible heart for Amari, who remained positive even as he was being wheeled into the operating room, his mother said.
“He made the nurses pray for him,” Hall said.
Hunter, who calls Amari her hero for all he has bravely endured, said Wednesday that he is recovering well and adjusting to his new heart.
“He is doing well and still dancing,” Hunter said.