EDMONTON — An 11-year-old Ontario girl was resting comfortably in an Edmonton hospital Wednesday night after a lengthy and rather harrowing medical procedure that ultimately will give her a shot at a more normal life.
Doctors at the Stollery Children’s Hospital gave young Grace Wood — who has DiGeorge syndrome, which causes heart defects and airway blockage — a new, functioning pulmonary valve.
Rather than using open-heart surgery — the only option provided to Grace’s family by doctors in Toronto — the Edmonton team did it through a less invasive measure called heart catheterization.
Things did not go perfectly.
“It was a very stressful day,” said Grace’s father, John Wood. “The one balloon they used to expand the stent inside the pulmonary conduit, it burst. Not that I know exactly what that means, but I know it’s not supposed to happen and they don’t like it to happen.”
“So they spent a fair amount of time trying to retrieve it, because you don’t want something like that floating through your system.”
In addition, the Edmonton team had planned to use an experimental device called an Edwards-Sapien trans-catheter aortic valve but discovered when they got Grace on the table that a more conventional device called a Melody trans-catheter pulmonary valve was the better fit.
That could be just a bunch of big, scary words for an 11-year-old described by her dad as “a girly-girl” whose hospital room is decorated in pink and purple and is festooned with posters of her beloved Jonas Brothers and Hannah Montana.
But John Wood said nothing fazes his “Amazing Grace,” who has already endured 35 medical procedures including three previous open-heart surgeries.
“She is truly amazing. She is a fighter. She knows how to take care of herself.”
She’s had a fair bit of help. The community of Peterborough, Ont., where the Woods live, has rallied around the little girl through all her tribulations, raising money for trips to California for previous surgeries and now to Edmonton.
“Every time we turned around there was a fundraiser for Grace,” said John. “If it hadn’t been for the community’s generosity, I don’t know — I think the ground would have just opened up and swallowed us.”
He particularly is grateful this time around for fundraisers held by Grace’s school and his colleagues at PepsiCo, where he works.
“Total strangers dropped money off, and we never asked for it,” he marvelled. “This isn’t anything that other parents haven’t gone through, believe me. Parents that have children with heart diseases, we face these risks all the time.”
The doctors believe the new valve will last for a long time and that Grace should be well in time for the new school year to begin in September.