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'Wish' Comes True For Heart Transplant Recipient



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‘Wish’ Comes True For

Heart Transplant Recipient

By Larissa Lytwyn

Katie Mascher, who turned 11 July 24, is a spirited wisp of a girl with a passion for Tinkerbell, ice cream and, like many children her age, Disney World.

At Disney, “the magic comes to you.”

Magic is also alive at the Mascher’s home, courtesy of Katie’s heart.

When Katie was 6 months old, she contracted dilated cardiomyopathy, a viral infection in her left ventricle that rendered her heart virtually useless.

“We first suspected a problem during a check up on December 16 [1993],” recalls Katie’s mother, Alice Mascher. “Katie’s pediatrician thought her heart was rather galloping.”

In addition, while infants are supposed to gain a pound a month in their early development, Katie was actually losing weight.

“He didn’t think there was reason to worry, at first,” said Ms Mascher. “The hospital was just supposed to be a precaution, just to make sure everything was okay.”

But on the way to the hospital for a cardiogram, baby Katie went into cardiac arrest. If she did not receive a new heart within the next few months, her likelihood of surviving was reduced to almost nothing, the doctors said.

A decade ago, the pediatric heart transplant was just beginning to be practiced at the nation’s top hospitals. Katie landed in the state-of-the-art cardiac unit of New York-Presbyterian Hospital, affiliated with Columbia and Cornell University, in New York City.

“She was put at the top of the list,” Ms Mascher said, noting that such listings were prioritized by the severity of the patient’s need.

“We had a donor in just 28 days,” said Ms Mascher.

The donor, she continued, was a young boy who had recently been killed in a car crash with his father. The child’s mother had decided that the boy could be an organ donor.

“While we often think about being donors ourselves, as adults, we don’t usually think about our children,” said Ms Mascher. “But there is an enormous need for organ donation at all ages.”

Katie’s surgery was performed on February 3, 1994.

“She was the 91st pediatric heart transplant the hospital performed,” said Ms Mascher.

At the moment her surgery was performed, she recalled, Katie’s twin brother broke out with a peculiar rash across his chest. The rash faded shortly after Katie’s surgery.

Ms Mascher discussed how “in tune” twins could be with each other. “The entire ordeal really increased our faith [in God],” she said.

Though the surgery had successfully been completed, Katie’s survival was still precarious.

“There was the concern of whether her body would accept or reject the heart,” said Ms Mascher.

But while most new hearts need electro-shock treatment to begin beating, Katie’s began beating as soon as it was placed in her chest.

“It was amazing,” remembers Ms Mascher, “like it was all meant to be.”

Postsurgery Difficulties

Katie has virtually no memory of her surgery, but remembers the difficulty of her first postsurgery years.

A heart transplant recipient constantly faces the danger of the body suddenly “rejecting” its new heart. Symptoms of a situation, said Ms Mascher, include coughing, a slight fever, and heavy fatigue.

To ensure that her body would not reject the new heart, in the first few years following her surgery, Katie had to take about a dozen medications at various times of the day.

“It was crazy,” remembers Ms Mascher. “We had to set alarm clocks all day, to remind ourselves of when the medications had to be administered.”

Often, Katie was left weak and unable to eat. She was constantly on the brink of being underweight. But over time, the number of Katie’s medications was reduced. Today, she takes about six.

“It’s definitely much more manageable now,” said Ms Mascher.

There is still the ever-present threat of possibly life-threatening effects to the medications, including the danger of Katie developing lymphoma, a life-threatening blood disease. She also suffers from the skin condition eczema, which is another side effect of the medications. She visits the hospital at least twice a year for evaluations.

“You have to keep on top of it,” said Ms Mascher.

A Wish Comes True

Several months ago, Katie’s cardiologist informed her and her family that they were eligible for a “wish” to be granted them on behalf of the Make-A-Wish Foundation. Any child with a life-threatening illness is qualified.

“I knew right away what I wanted to do,” said Katie, “go to Disney World!”

“We’d never been on a vacation quite like that before,” said Ms Mascher, “never to Disney, and certainly never to a place where all expenses would be paid!”

 Katie, her parents, and two brothers enjoyed their Disney vacation from April 9 through April 15.

When asked what her favorite part of the trip was, Katie laughed, “Everything!”

The family stayed at a resort sponsored by the Make-A-Wish Foundation called Give Kids the World. With her Make-A-Wish Foundation pin, Katie and her family were able to go the front of each line.

“That was really great,” said Ms Masher. “Some of those lines are very long and it gets very hot. It would be impossible for Katie to handle [in her condition]. She would just melt!”

In addition, the Maschers had the chance to meet with other people from the Give Kids the World resort, sharing meals and stories.

“Everyone was really nice!” piped in Katie.

Katie and one girl, whose illness required her to be wheelchair bound, exchanged email addresses.

The Mascher family also met children with cancer and many other kinds of life-threatening illnesses.

“This entire experience — from Katie’s diagnosis to now — actually drew our family closer together,” said Ms Mascher. “These experiences will do that — either pull you closer together or tear you apart. Fortunately, in our situation, we drew closer.”

She credits “faith” for keeping the family going.

“It was very special when this past February, Father Bob [Weiss], of St Rose of Lima Church, gave a sermon recognizing the tenth anniversary of Katie’s surgery,” she said.

Ms Mascher also discussed the immense support her family’s had from friends and loved ones.

One neighbor, Michelle Babyak, was instrumental in giving them “the inside track” on Disney.

“She was great!” laughed Ms Mascher. “She should work at Disney. She told us which rides and places would be best for us. It was really great to have that information before we left.”

“The whole [Disney] experience was a lot of fun,” said Katie. “It was great.”

Living with Katie’s condition, said Ms Mascher, has really made her “let go of the small things” and embrace life existentially.

Smiling at Katie, she reflected, “You really do learn to believe in magic!”

For more information on the Make-A-Wish Foundation, visit www.makeawish.org.

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