On April 1, 2018 in Sampson County, NC at a very small, very rural hospital, a tiny 4 lb 13 oz baby was born to an addict. Baby Elizabeth was born addicted to meth, marijuana, and amphetamines. That alone is so much for a tiny newborn to endure, but while in the hospital, doctors noticed that there was something wrong with Baby Elizabeth’s breathing and sent her to Cape Fear Hospital in Wilmington to have her evaluated.
Doctors there quickly realized that it was not her lungs, but in fact her heart that needed attention so transported Elizabeth to Duke University Hospital. At Duke, Elizabeth’s diagnosis would finally be named: Tricuspid Atresia, Hypoplastic Right Ventricle, Ventricular Septal Defect, Atrial Septal Defect.
Unable to care for the child herself, the addict mother reached out to her half-sister, Elizabeth’s aunt, to see if she would be willing to help. At seventeen days old, while still at Duke, Elizabeth was placed into the care of her Aunt Shelly. Elizabeth remained at Duke until she was 26 days old, at which time, she was taken home to her forever home with Shelly, her husband and their two daughters, ages 19 & 17.
Elizabeth had a very rough start in life. Not only the drugs and basically being abandoned by her birth mother, as well as the heart condition, but eating and gaining weight were so hard, which is very common for most children with a CHD. Elizabeth returned to Duke for the first of many times to come, due to food intolerance. During their nine days at Duke (this time), the family met with the GI team and discussed placing at G-Tube when the time was right for Elizabeth to have her cardiac procedure.
As the family was packing for what was going to be Elizabeth’s first beach trip, a phone call came in… Elizabeth’s first heart surgery was set…there would be no beach trip that year. On July 6, 2018, Elizabeth had her first open chest surgery and spent four weeks in the hospital. Those four weeks were filled with countless complications, but Elizabeth faced and fought them ALL!
That first major surgery was just a band-aid though, which the family knew going in. That surgery would help her grow and get stronger for her Glenn procedure, which she ended up having September 28, 2018. The Glenn surgery ends up being a very difficult one for Elizabeth. Elizabeth comes out and for the next 12 days fights… hard. Her O2’s are all over the place…she’s not doing well…she seems to be getting worse and nothing is working. On October 10, 2018, a trip to the cath lab determined that she had developed Pulmonary Hypertension. Knowing what the issue was and being able to treat it with the proper medications, she immediately started to show improvement. Elizabeth finally made it home, five weeks after surgery.
In January of 2020, after a lot of research and conversations, the decision was made to have a J-tube placed for Elizabeth. While the J-tube isn’t ideal for active children it was the best solution for Elizabeth. Then, on January 21, 2021, she was finally able to have her Fenestrated Fontan…an eight-hour and very crucial surgery. But after only a nine day stay, and really no complications, she was home! “We rested and snuggled at home! It was so hard to believe,” said Shelly. “I held my breath and waited to return to Duke. But we didn’t.”
Elizabeth loves spending time with her big sister, Cassidy and her husband, Andrew, who Elizabeth affectionately refers to as B, as well as her other sister Emily, when she is in town from Charlotte.
Elizabeth has endured more in her life than most adults could survive. Yet every single day, she laughs and loves and brings such unimaginable joy to the lives of all those that know her. Elizabeth is our 2023 Queen of Hearts…. An amazing little miracle and a true heart hero!