Despite having a transplant when he was only 2 years old, Loukas "Louie" Fischer was like a lot of teenagers and thought himself immortal.
"I think before his first rejection, he was like that," sister Naomi Ley said.
He felt that way, that is, until his second heart began to give out.
"I think it got his attention, and he realized how seriously he had to take his health," mother Deb Ley said.
Transplanted hearts don't last forever: Louie's replacement heart made it more than a dozen years before it started to run down. His body rejected the failing heart, causing his kidneys to fail and forcing him to spend the next few years on dialysis treatments.
"He was an eternal optimist; there was nothing down about Louie," Deb said. "There's not too many kids who could sit in the hospital for two months and be fine with it."
Louie had started off life with the deck stacked against him. The son of drug addicts, he was born with eight holes in his heart. He and his older brother, Jamie, and younger sister, Karah, were placed in the foster care system before being adopted by Elmer and Beverly Fischer.
The Fischers, both in their 60s, had fostered hundreds of children. Beverly had asked the Leys, whom she knew through Hesperia Community Church, to take care of Louie and his siblings if anything should happen to her and her husband. In 2005, Elmer and Beverly died one after the other and the Leys, who already had five children of their own, found their Victorville home expanding to accommodate three more.
All three Fischer kids had same-age peers in the Ley family when the families merged. Louie and Naomi had known each other the entire time they had each attended Hesperia Christian School — and weren't all that fond of each other at first. Naomi still remembered Louie taking her shoes and throwing them on the roof of the school in fourth grade.
Louie's second heart starting to fail was a wake-up call for the entire family.
"When Louie first came into our home, we thought, 'He had a transplant, he's good to go,'" father Dave Ley said.
"We really had no idea about heart transplants," Deb said. "It was all a huge learning curve."
Louie was placed on the transplant list for both heart and kidneys and looked forward to a life beyond graduation.
"He had plans for the future and stuff," Naomi said. "But after the rejection, he didn't have plans for the next 20 years: He had plans for the next two years."
Louie hoped to attend California Baptist University and work toward becoming a nurse.
"He was in the hospital constantly, and did he ever complain?" Deb said, to which Naomi solemnly shook her head.
Two weeks before graduation, Louie — who constantly suffered from exotic diseases like chronic parvovirus due to his compromised immune system — got one last infection. He died on May 19, just 13 days shy of graduation.
"I don't think that we realized how fragile his life was," Dave said. "We knew he wasn't going to live to be an old man."
The Leys are people of faith — Dave is a senior pastor at Hesperia Community Church and Deb runs the school's homeschooling program — but what happened to Louie rocked the family.
"I think it's totally normal when these things to happen to ask 'why?'" Dave said. "There's confusion. No doubt about it."
The Leys, who see God as a father figure whose sometimes painful decisions have to be trusted as being the best for the family, said they simply have to trust in the divine plan, as hard as that is right now.
"Maybe in this lifetime, I'll understand a little better," Dave said. "But I have to admit, I'm confused now."
In the fall, Naomi will head to Master's College in Santa Clarita and study political studies, with an emphasis on constitutional law.
"I am healthy and able to do things he could never do, and that's a gift," Naomi said. "He had ambition and things he wanted to do."
Beau Yarbrough may be reached at (760) 956-7108 or at Beau@HesperiaStar.com. Follow us on Facebook at Facebook.com/Hesperia.Star.