Heart Month 2024 Patient Story: Montrel Drayton

February 27, 2024
Montrel Drayton sits playfully in front of a monument at the Green Bay Packers stadium.

As sports fanatics, Montrel Drayton and his family are no strangers to tough opponents. In fact, Montrel’s father, Maurice, has coached tenacious teams from the likes of the Indianapolis Colts to the Las Vegas Raiders and most recently has taken on a more local role as head football coach at The Citadel.

While he and his family are accustomed to hard fought battles, Montrel’s parents never expected that at five months pregnant, when most families learn the sex of their child, Tonya, Montrel’s mother, and Maurice would learn that Montrel would need three stages of open-heart surgery to correct his double inlet single left ventricle, also known as hypoplastic left heart syndrome.

During their discovery appointment, the Draytons learned that, at the time, the oldest person living with the corrective surgical procedures for their son’s syndrome was only 14 years old.

“The health journey for Montrel, throughout his younger years, was an emotional roller coaster,” said Maurice Drayton. “It consisted of many appointments, days of sickness and surgeries and countless unknowns.”

Montrel’s first open heart surgery occurred within his first year of life and his last heart surgery was at six years old.

“The Medical University of South Carolina’s (MUSC) Children’s Hospital was a Godsend for Montrel and his health journey, even prior to birth,” Maurice said. “We are very thankful that living in the Charleston area allowed us to be easily connected with physicians and specialists that could cater to our child's specific needs, and we knew, without a doubt, that he would be receiving superb care.”

Even when Maurice’s occupation required their family to move across the state or relocate to other states, Montrel continued his health care with MUSC.

“I once received a call while I was at work, when Montrel was 2 years old, that he had stopped breathing and lost consciousness while with his in-home babysitter,” Tonya said. “The local hospital called me out of the classroom, and I remember instantly saying to them ‘Do not touch him, send him directly to MUSC.’ That was the confidence and reassurance we had in the health care services of MUSC, even when Montrel was in dire need of immediate care. On that day, Montrel was medevacked to MUSC from another local hospital.”

Montrel’s diagnosis impacted the Draytons’ lives in many ways. Although Montrel was young and does not remember much from his younger years, his parents remember just how emotionally taxing the experience was.

“Looking back, I feel that for probably about three years I was on autopilot, just trying to do what was needed to care for Montrel while working full time and trying to remain positive,” Maurice said.

Just as any resilient team, Montrel and his family continue to overcome the physical and emotional challenges associated with his diagnosis.

Montrel is currently still seen by health professionals at MUSC. In terms of his heart condition, Montrel has moved to adult care. One of Montrel’s childhood corrective surgeries was called the Fontan procedure. Consequently, Montrel is seen yearly in the Fontan Clinic where he is initially taken for a series of tests and lab work. A team of doctors, then, work together to provide him with proper care based on those results. After the team collaborates, Montrel and his doctors come together for one appointment which makes it more convenient and ultimately allows them to collaborate on site.

Over the years, after the majority of Montrel’s surgeries, the Draytons became a point of contact for other families experiencing similar situations.

“This type of experience can seem never ending, and sometimes, not promising but there is a lot to be hopeful for,” Tonya said. “We are very thankful for our support system, including our family, friends, co-workers, church members and even strangers. I did not know the magnitude of Montrel’s story and how many individuals were praying for Montrel but later came to realize through conversations over the years. I know our faith in God, along with the care that was provided by MUSC, allowed others to see that it is possible to overcome unsettling health prognoses.”

“We were, and still are, surrounded by an excellent team of doctors,” continued Maurice. “There are a multitude of specialists that exist who were and continue to be instrumental in caring for Montrel. Montrel’s journey has certainly been one full of discoveries and trial and error. As our family has worked jointly with MUSC, best practices to care for Montrel have been established and have been successful.”

Having been born into a family that loves sports, it came as no surprise that Montrel naturally gravitated toward them, as well. Early on, it was easy to tell that football was his favorite. Due to Montrel’s medical condition, he was not allowed to participate in contact sports, so he did the next best thing. He found other ways to surround himself with the sport, the coaching staffs and the teams. In middle school, Montrel began his career with the equipment staff. Montrel has now earned experience at each level of equipment staffing from professional, college and grade school football teams.

Montrel is currently completing his fourth year at Allen University in Columbia, South Carolina, where he is majoring in sports management. He has worked with Allen’s football team for three years, and after graduation plans to pursue a career as an equipment manager.

Throughout Montrel’s journey, the Draytons have found that their experience was made much easier through their support system, monetary support and living within the Charleston area where they are nearby MUSC. Knowing this, their family wanted to find a way to provide monetary support to other families that are going through the same or similar experiences. In order to do so, they established Montrel’s Mini Heartbeats, a nonprofit organization whose fundraising efforts will benefit the MUSC Shawn Jenkins Children’s Hospital and assist other families confronted with the hardships of travel, appointments, medical bills, time away from work and securing housing while in Charleston.