BAY CITY, MI-Just 12 years old, Aaron Bovia of Bay City recently underwent a heart transplant. He’s now recovering, with the help and support of many members of this tight-knit Michigan community.

“It’s been quite a whirlwind, because it really wasn’t expected,” said Earl Bovia, Aaron’s father. “Well, it was and it wasn’t.” He explained that while Aaron has had heart issues since he was born, a complete heart transplant wasn’t on their radar. “It just got dropped on us one day.”

Bovia, and his wife Michelle, own Bay City Bill’s, a popular bar in Bay City that we’ve visited several times during our searches for Michigan’s Best. We wrote about the bar last fall, in a story about the strong support that three Bay City restaurants have been providing each other, and the community, during the pandemic shut downs. Aaron’s heart transplant has once again shown the best side of Bay City, with the community rallying around Aaron and the Bovia family.

Aaron was diagnosed with a rare condition called Tetralogy of Fallot at birth, and underwent his first surgery at just five days old at C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. He has received care from the hospital ever since, and has undergone multiple procedures there over the years, including most recently an operation to put a new heart valve in.

After a recent check up visit, Aaron’s mom Lynn Bovia called Earl Bovia and revealed that the medical team “was talking about a heart transplant.” Earl said he just dropped to his knees upon hearing this news.

According to his 7th grade teacher at Zion Lutheran School in Bay City, Julie Glumm, Aaron’s “happiness shows on his face and his laugh is infectious. If you have never heard Aaron laugh, it is a wonderful sound.”

Glumm was there when Aaron collapsed on the playground at school just a few weeks ago. “When he had his spell on March 24th, I called an ambulance and sat with Aaron,” Glumm said. “He was very positive he didn’t need an ambulance.  We were sitting on our blacktop and Aaron kept saying ‘I’m fine, I’m fine.’  I know ‘I’m fine’, to Aaaon meant more doctors, more worried parents, and more time away from school. Could you blame him?  I was talking to his mom during the spell by phone,  and Lynn and I agreed this was the time to get medical people involved.”

After a lifetime of treatments, Glumm said that Aaron “has an interesting perspective of the world after being poked and prodded and tested for so long.” At his small school, he’s just a regular kid, who’s favorite subject this year is social studies. “Aaron has always been the smallest guy, but it has never stopped him,” Glumm said. “At recess he plays all the same games as his class.  Someone is his pitch runner in baseball, and he is an excellent touch football ref, fair and authoritative. During basketball season, as his parents and all the other parents sit on pins and needles when the coach subs Aaron in, the other nine players are competitive, but good athletes to let Aaron be a part of the action.”

Aaron's Army

Aaron Bovia right after surgery to receive his new heart. Surgery was performed by the team at Mott Children’s Hospital in Ann Arbor.Photo provided by Earl Bovia, used with permission.

An ambulance drove Aaron straight from Bay City to Ann Arbor, and once his parents gave their consent, the medical team at Mott’s started the transplant vetting process. Aaron was assessed as to whether he would “be a good steward of the heart” Bovia explained. “To put it bluntly, they don’t want to give a good heart to somebody who’s sick, and that wouldn’t be able to ultimately take care of that heart over time.”

Aaron was approved to move forward for the transplant. Through some miracle, Bovia’s insurance company approved Aaron’s transplant in two hours, a process that can usually take several days. “They said that never happens,” Bovia said. “They don’t understand why or how, and they had never seen anyone get an answer that quickly.”

Aaron made the transplant list on Friday April 2. Originally, there were plans to send him home, which would have changed his place on the transplant list. Before they could release him, a heart was found for Aaron on Monday April 5, and the next morning at 7:30 Aaron was called for surgery. It took nine hours.

“There was so much worry about what was going to happen,” Bovia said. “You know he’s in the right place. These guys know what they are doing. But when I have something like this, I get on Google and look stuff up, so I knew what his chances were. He had a 10% chance of not surviving. You just don’t know, so you just pray.”

“The whole community knew about this,” Bovia said. He said he felt the need to share it on social media. “I felt like everybody was there, praying with us, and that it was going to be ok.”

“The transplant decision, the donor, the surgery happened so fast,” said Glumm. The school kept the news about a possible transplant from Aaron’s class, only sharing the news after it was confirmed that the transplant would happen. “Moms were in constant prayer on Tuesday the 7th during the surgery,”Glumm said. “Teachers were a bit off with worry, as were my students.  Aaron’s classmates  knew, but we didn’t tell the rest of the school, because let’s be realistic, I couldn’t announce this and then have to deliver news that we lost a family member.  I kept the students updated all day Tuesday, as updates were sent to me and we were able to be together.  Many times during that day we stopped to laugh about something Aaron did or said that was funny in the four years we have all been together.”

“It’s a small school,” said Bovia. “But it is like a family.”

As Aaron recovered, and Bovia share his progress online, Glumm organized a special day in his honor. She reached out to all the Lutheran schools in Michigan, with the Bovia’s permission, and Friday April 9th was “HEARTSTRONG for Aaron Day.”  “All the schools that chose to participate wore red for Aaron,” Glumm said. “The schools sent their photos and I posted them as a get well for Aaron.  Several principals held Aaron up in prayer or in a chapel service that week, too.”

Bovia has had special Aaron’s Army t-shirts made, and is selling them to raise money for Mott’s Children’s Hospital and the pediatric cardiology department. The shirt features a quote from John Wayne on the back “courage is being scared to death, but saddling up anyway.” So many people reached out to Bovia about what they could do for the family, and while he greatly appreciated that, he said “I’ve got good insurance. I know that people want to do something, so I thought I’d take that good will and use it for something else.” They are encouraging people to take pictures of themselves in the shirts and share them on the Aaron’s Army Facebook page so Aaron can see them.

It is still a long road to recovery for Aaron. He is on a host of medications, and management of all these is “really quite daunting” according to Bovia. Aaron won’t be able to go back to school for a while, and that has hit him pretty hard. While excited to be released from the hospital sometime next week, Aaron’s been pretty “down and subdued” lately, according to his dad. He was especially disappointed to learn that he won’t be able to eat sushi again, one of his favorite foods, but knows how incredible it is that he got a new heart so quickly. “We have thrown a lot at him over the last couple of weeks,” Bovia said. “He’s taken everything in pretty good stride.”

Bay City once again showed just how big their hearts are for one of their own. “The people, this community, just pulls together with a common goal,” Bovia said. “Whether it’s seeing someone get better with a new heart, or in the tough times our restaurants have been in, people come together in this community. There are a lot of great people, it’s very tight knit, you’re just one person away from knowing everybody. Everyone just pulls together when something like this happens.”

“The outpouring of support has just been amazing,” Bovia said. “You don’t think about how a story like this uplifts everybody. I didn’t think about that side of it, that its encouraging to see something like this happen, and how it turned out. And to show Aaron how many people are supporting him, it kind of lifts his spirits.”

Aaron's Army

Aaron Bovia one week after receiving his new heart. Here he is walking the halls of Mott Children’s Hospital in Ann Arbor.Photo provided by Earl Bovia, used with permission.

Aaron's Army

Student’s from Aaron Bovia’s school Zion Lutheran in Bay City line up in support of their classmate.Photo provided by Earl Bovia, used with permission.

Want to be a part of Aaron’s Army? You can join the Facebook page here for updates, or to leave a message of support for Aaron.

If you’d like to purchase an Aaron’s Army t-shirt, you can pick them up at Bay City Bills Bar & Grill. You can also place an online order here, and the shirt will be shipped to you.

All proceeds from the shirts will be donated to Mott Children’s Hospital in Ann Arbor in honor of Aaron Bovia.

Bay City Bills Bar & Grill

1215 Michigan Ave, Bay City, MI 48708

(989) 894-4140

Aaron's Army

Staff and patrons alike from Bay City Bill’s donned their Aaron’s Army t-shirts to show support for Aaron Bovia and to help raise money for Mott Children’s Hospital.Photo provided by Earl Bovia, used with permission.

Aaron's Army

Classmates at Zion Lutheran School in Bay City line up in support of their friend Aaron Bovia, who recently underwent a heart transplant in Bay City.Photo provided by Earl Bovia, used with permission.

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