Pamela is lucky to be alive. Her own heart stopped beating twice. But with an unknown donor’s heart beating inside her chest, Pamela Loveng, 12, is poised and thoughtful beyond her years.
Standing tall in what her mother, Christine Loveng, calls “silly shoes” last Friday afternoon, she came to meet the man responsible for her transplant operation – David Foster.
Last year her family spent a frantic weekend waiting for a miracle – the arrival of a donated heart – in time to save her life. When the organ came, literally at the eleventh hour, Pamela had been surviving on life support. And prayers.
“Our daughter waited nearly a year, until she was almost 11 years old, for a replacement heart. We had to get government approval because we were going out of province (Toronto, Ontario). Our lives were on hold. I had just started up a business and my husband had to quit his job because it was just too stressful, caring for a sick child and going back and forth to hospital. Our neighbour arranged fundraising for us which helped. And I finally applied to the David Foster Foundation. It was so hard asking for money, but we had no choice. There were travel costs, accommodation, meals, all kinds of expenses. The foundation paid for that.”
Pamela was born with a complex congenital heart defect. “She had to have bypass surgery the day after she was born,” said Loveng. “Her heart had three chambers instead of four, so her blood was not getting enough oxygen. It was a three-part surgery, the second scheduled for six months and the third at three years. She did really well them all.”
A later surgery closed a hole in her heart. Despite many visits to doctors’ offices, long stays in hospital, lifestyle restrictions and strict regime of medications, Pamela remained a happy, optimistic little girl. “When they’re born in it, when kids are sick, that is their life. They don’t know any different,” explained Loveng.
Life progressed normally until a few years ago. “Pamela continued to go to school. The only noticeable difference was that she was not as pink as most children. Then, she started to deteriorate. She got very sick very fast. Our doctor said she was in heart failure.” Over the next six months, the family traveled to Vancouver for assessments. The specialists’ report was grim. “We were told she would need heart surgery so I asked, ‘to replace a valve?’ And they said, ‘no, to replace the whole heart.’ It was quite a shock.”
Her name went on a list for a heart donor, and the family went to Toronto Sick Children’s Hospital to wait. “She was very thin, and very pale when we arrived in Toronto. The first day we took our two children (a brother was born when Pamela was seven), to the Toronto Zoo and the CN Tower. The next day, Pamela was in hospital. They immediately put a tube in her stomach, they put her to sleep, and she had a heart catheter installed. Then her kidneys began to fail.”
By December 18, Pamela’s condition had worsened. She was put on a ventilator and she remained in critical care. The family had hoped to spend Christmas together but it was not to be. “Pamela spent Christmas 2003 in Children’s Hospital. She couldn’t talk, the machines were doing all the work for her. It was a horrible time. On December 31, she went into cardiac arrest and for four minutes her heart stopped. On January 1, she arrested again,” Loveng said. “The doctors were concerned about her having brain damage. They put her on life support and ECMO (Extra Corporeal Membrane Oxygenation is oxygenation outside the body, a form of heart-lung bypass) which does all the work the body can’t do. It kept her alive while we waited for a heart. She was dialysis, medications and blood thinners. The doctors gave her three or four weeks to survive and after two and a half weeks, she was in five organ failure.”
Doctors told the distraught patients that if a donor’s heart was not available soon, there was not much hope. “We prepared for the worst,” Loveng said. “It was all about machines at this point. It was Sunday, and we knew by Monday we would have to make choices. We waited until quite late on January 18. She was so bad, the doctors feared even if a heart became available, she might not be able to use it. At the last minute, there was a heart.” And after a ten hour operation, Pamela had her donated heart. “When she awoke from surgery she had missed Christmas, New Years Eve and her birthday – January 22. “She basically got her heart as a birthday present,” Loveng said. “Her doctors were worried about neurological affects but she sailed through it all. She learned to walk again. She’s done really well since then.”
Indeed, today Pamela is making up for time lost.Though her weight plummeted to 65 kilograms when she was sick, today she looks healthy and happy. If not for the fact she was at the David Foster Foundation last week, no one would know she once hovered between life and death, waiting for a miracle.
The David Foster Foundation has helped several Prince George families. David Foster is a 14 time Grammy Award winner (42 nominations). He has produced pop sensations such as Celine Dion, Whitney Houston, Barbra Streisand and Chicago. The David Foster Foundation has given financial assistance to 213 B.C. families with children who require major organ transplants. For more information on the foundation or its work call Lynn at 1-877-777-7675.