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Heart Transplant
Gabrielle Bolden

What does an 8-year-old do with a new heart? Gabrielle “Gabby” Bolden of Birmingham uses hers to tirelessly ride her bike, roller skate – and plan a long-awaited trip to Legoland.

A few months after Gabby was born in April 2008, she was diagnosed with pediatric myocarditis. The disease was successfully managed by medication and periodic hospitalizations until April 2015 when Gabby became ill with RSV, a common respiratory virus. But Gabby couldn’t seem to recover from the viral infection so doctors admitted her to the hospital and, because of her medical history, ultimately performed a heart catheterization. The cath revealed that the right side of her heart was severely damaged. “All her major organs were enlarged,” Gail Dennis, Gabby’s mother, said. “They moved us to the CVICU and that’s when we found out how sick she was.”

After several months in the hospital, Gabby was placed on the heart transplant list and began what was expected to be a long wait. With careful management of her heart condition and a pump that administered one of her many prescribed meds, the little girl was able to start school in August 2015 and the family talked about the possibility of a pre-transplant visit to Legoland – a trip the youngster was eager to make.

Surprisingly, just a few days into the school year, Gabby learned a new heart was available. “As they rolled her into surgery, she asked the nurses if she could see the new heart she was about to receive,” Gail said. “They told her they didn’t think that was possible and she replied, ‘That’s okay because now I get to go to Legoland.’”

Surgery and recovery went smoothly and the feisty second grader was home two weeks after the transplant, ready to make up for lost time. “She’s been doing very well,” Gail said. “She was so excited to go back to school that she packed her lunch herself the day before.”

Gail said her family received a lot of emotional support during the ordeal that helped them during those difficult days, making new friends with other families on the unit and with Gabby’s care team. “Children’s of Alabama has been such a blessing to our family,” she said. “Gabby’s surgery is something that should have been scary but I was calm because the staff is so awesome.”

As for Gabby, she has a lot of big plans. She played soccer with her team, the Butterflies, and wants to take up basketball and gymnastics. And, of course, go to Legoland. “The sky is the limit,” she said. “I can do whatever I want to!”

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