Girl’s heart bigger than disease

Published 11:01 pm Friday, May 14, 2010

Hearing doctors diagnose your daughter with a serious heart problem is a jarring experience for any mother. Recommending she undergo multiple open-heart surgeries only piles on to that stress.

Learning that information while the child is still in the womb is a different story altogether.

Clanton resident Kelli Alexander faced that reality nearly eight years ago when she was sixth months pregnant. She and her husband John found out their daughter Isabelle “Izzy” Alexander, now 7, had hypoplastic left heart syndrome, a congenital heart disease where parts of the left side of the organ do not develop completely.

The Alexanders learned of Izzy’s condition prior to her birth, which helped them prepare for proper procedures and know what to expect afterward. Doctors told them their daughter would need three surgeries in different stages. Or they could refrain from seeking any additional treatment, which some people choose to do in this case. When told no doctors in Alabama performed the operations Izzy need, they opted to travel to Children’s Hospital in Boston the day after she was born.

Only alive for three days, Izzy underwent open-heart surgery. Doctors told the parents the procedure was a success and recommended they transfer her to Children’s Healthcare in Atlanta. At 6 months old, Izzy underwent another open-heart procedure. While preparing for it, doctors told the parents Izzy’s heart was too weak for the operation and the only option was a heart transplant. She had congestive heart failure and a coarctation or the aorta. She then had a stint procedure to strengthen her heart.

Kelli Alexander said some doctors didn’t have much hope for Izzy, but the surgeon felt better about it. Two weeks later, her heart found the strength it needed, and the next procedure was carried out.

Alexander said Izzy is still waiting to undergo the next stage of treatment, called the Fontan procedure.

“Most of the doctors didn’t have much hope, but her surgeon felt good about it. And the Lord convicted our hearts that a transplant was not the way to go. My husband and I looked at each other and immediately said no. And about 2 weeks later, her heart had strengthened and the surgeon was able to complete the Glen procedure, another open-heart surgery. Again, she passed with flying colors and the doctors were totally amazed. We are still in a “holding” pattern of doing the next stage of the surgery.

“One of her doctor’s said her heart is the strongest he’d ever seen one with hypoplastic left heart.”

Alexander’s hope remains steadfast.

“We were on a mission to do everything we could to help our daughter have a healthy, normal life,” she said. “My faith in God has really been the cornerstone of how I cope. The Lord provided me with such a sweet, sweet peace about Isabelle from the moment I found out. I couldn’t imagine not having His strength to lean on.”

Today, Izzy does not experience any pain aside from some leg discomfort and the occasional headache, her mother said. If any pain arises, a little rest will help it subside. She stays active but sometimes worries she can’t accomplish some things on account of her condition. Her mother said she stressed over making it into the “Heart Club” for Jump Rope for Heart at school. All second-graders were required to complete 30 jumps in one minute to make it. Defying the odds, Izzy did it.

“She really is a testament that there is hope in children who have congenital heart defects,” Alexander said. “With the money that she raised, the American Heart Association can perform much needed research to help other children like Isabelle. She is one tough little girl.”

Izzy will be on medication for the rest of her life. She currently takes blood pressure medication and an aspirin every day. To watch her daughter maintain a high quality of life after being diagnosed while still in the womb, Alexander says it’s a miracle. A serious heart disease could scare any mother and father, but she keeps a positive attitude to ensure her daughter’s strength doesn’t waver.

“She truly is a miracle,” Alexander said about her daughter Izzy. “God has shown her an abundance of grace. Without Him, I believe she would not be here today.”

Izzy attends Clanton Elementary School. Her sister, Abigail, is 6 years old.