A Family's Story
On the day she was born, Samantha Armstrong suffered unexpected respiratory distress. Doctors found she had a rare congenital heart defect called Ebstein’s Anomaly, where her right ventricle does not not pump efficiently to her lungs. Sam was initially scheduled to have surgery shortly after her diagnosis.
Six days later, however, the family was told that Samantha’s heart had stabilized and she didn’t need surgery right away. Parents Deborah and Richard were finally able to take their first child her home.
After nine years, and countless check-ups at BC Children’s Hospital, Samantha was starting to slow down. “She couldn’t climb the stairs or run,” recalls Deborah.
In May 2008, Samantha had open-heart surgery on the defect she had been living with for so long. “One of the things she was afraid of was the pain,” says Deborah. “The nurses made her feel much more comfortable.”
Sam’s family and community were a big support to her as well. As the family prepared to leave home in the early morning hours to travel to Children’s Hospital, they saw that the side walk was covered in chalk drawings that spelled out “Sammy We Love You”. Family friends had stayed up late to leave her this hopeful message. As the Armstrong’s arrived to the hospital lobby, more than 30 family members, from near and far, were waiting for the family to wish Sam well.
Sam’s surgery and recovery was a success, and she was eventually able to get back to her regular physical activity.
Sam’s experience took a more unexpected turn two years after the procedure, when she developed Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Counsellors gave her techniques to deal with her distress, and she eventually overcame it. “Now she wants to study medicine,” says Deborah. “She would like to pursue either cardiology or psychiatry.”
Sam now looks back positively on her experience. Deborah says that Sam is “now okay with talking about her surgery; and she wants to share her experience to help others.”
Now 17, Samantha will continue to be followed by BC Children’s Hospital until she is 18. She’s already prepared for her transition into adult care, and her mom is confident Sam is ready to take it on.
“A Second Chance- Boy with a Heart Transplant”
Andrew Westerlund was a healthy and active boy who loved playing soccer, hiking and being outside. Then suddenly on December 21, 2012, he started to complain about pains in his stomach. Thinking that it might be his appendix Andrew’s mom Shannon took him to their local hospital but they were quickly transferred to BC Children’s Hospital. After going through some tests Andrew was sent home with medication and scheduled to return in a few days to see a specialist at the Children’s Heart Centre.
When the time came for his appointment Andrew could barely walk into the Heart Centre. He was immediately transferred to the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit, where the family learned that Andrew had an enlarged heart and his organs were starting to shut down due to improper blood flow. The Westerlunds were also told that Andrew needed to have a heart transplant and that it could take up to four months to find a heart that was a perfect match.
In the meantime Andrew had open-heart surgery on January 16, 2013, and became the first patient at BC Children’s Hospital to have a Berlin heart. A Berlin heart is an artificial heart about the size of a small refrigerator that pumps blood for the patient while they wait for a transplant. Luckily, just five days after Andrew was hooked up to the Berlin heart, the Westerlunds were informed that a heart had arrived for Andrew. He immediately went back into surgery and received his new heart on January 21, 2013.
Since then Andrew has made a remarkable recovery. He returned home just 15 days after his surgery, was skiing eight and half weeks later, and returned to school only 10 weeks after surgery.
Andrew’s diagnosis may have also saved his older sister Catherine from a similar incident. After Andrew’s surgeries the family went to get tested for his genetic condition and learned that Catherine has a hole in her heart that will also require surgery to repair.