By Associated Press - Thursday, December 5, 2019

CHICAGO (AP) - A 23-year-old Chicago man who received two heart transplants as a teenager died in hospice care, days after he married his high school sweetheart, his new bride said.

Javier Rodriguez was diagnosed in seventh grade with dilated cardiomyopathy, a genetic disease that predisposes victims to develop heart failure at a young age. Rodriguez, known to his family and friends as Javi, underwent two heart transplants, including one when he was 14 years old and another when he was 18.

Dr. Bryan Smith, his most recent physician, said Rodriguez was not qualified to receive a third heart transplant because he had gotten infections and had kidney dysfunction.

Rodriguez’s new wife, Crystal Cuevas-Rodriguez, said Wednesday that he passed away Monday in his best friend’s arms at their Logan Square home. He was surrounded by loved ones.

“Javi was a fighter, and he fought till his very last breath,” Cuevas-Rodriguez said. “He died beautifully, with so much grace.”

The couple got married on Nov. 27 in a tiny chapel at the UChicago Medical Complex. They quickly planned the wedding after Rodriguez decided the previous weekend that he wanted to live out his last days at home in hospice care.

The day before the wedding, Smith said Rodriguez talked about what he wanted to do in his last days and that Rodriguez told him “he wanted his tombstone to say ‘husband.’”

Cuevas-Rodriguez said she and Rodriguez met when they were juniors in high school, and she knew he was the love of her life.

“Javi was that man,” she said emphatically. “He was so confident. He wanted amazing things in life and no one could stop him.”

Rodriguez would do anything for his loved ones, especially the couple’s infant daughter, Leia, who was born earlier this year, according to Cuevas-Rodriguez. She said Rodriguez’s condition made it hard for him to hold and feed Leia, which he worked “tirelessly” to do.

“Even if he was struggling, in pain or frustrated with life, he put his daughter first,” she said. “It meant the world to me that he gave everything he had to be the best father he could be.”

Cuevas-Rodriguez said they took many photos as a family for their daughter to remember her father.

“He loved her with everything, and she’ll know that for a lifetime,” she said.

Funeral arrangements will be kept private, with a ceremony for friends and family, Cuevas-Rodriguez said.

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