Like many children of military families, Lauren has moved around a lot. Born with a serious heart defect, she has been treated at hospitals across the country, so her family knows from experience how important it is to have access to outstanding pediatric health care.
At age 3, Lauren received a heart transplant, but she’s since had two frightening rejection scares. Adding to her medical challenges, at age 5 Lauren was diagnosed with a chronic condition that causes severe swelling of the esophagus, making it very difficult to swallow.
But thanks to her resilient spirit – and the thoughtful care she receives today at Children’s Hospital Colorado – Lauren is now a happy 11 year old who lives in Colorado Springs. And with the help of generous donors, Lauren will soon be able to access her specialists closer to home. Children’s Colorado is working to open a new pediatric hospital in Colorado Springs in 2018.
“We have to drive to the main Children’s Hospital in Aurora two or three times a month for her appointments, so we can’t wait to have a hospital in Colorado Springs,” said Lauren’s mother, Cristi.
Born in heart failure
Lauren’s mother remembers the day 10 years ago when she realized something might be wrong with her daughter. Cristi had just entered her third trimester of pregnancy, and Lauren, her soon-to-be third child, seemed perfectly healthy.
“One day, I realized that I hadn’t felt the baby move in a while,” recalled Cristi.
Feeling concerned, Cristi started driving to the nearest hospital. On the way there, she went into labor.
Lauren was born the next morning. Not only was Lauren nearly two months premature, she was also in full heart failure. After doctors stabilized her, they delivered a devastating diagnosis to the family. Lauren had a life-threatening congenital heart defect.
Lauren was able to return to home, but as the years passed, her health deteriorated. When she was 3, Lauren was added to the heart transplant list. She spent seven precarious months hospitalized at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia – a three-hour drive from where the family was living at the time – before finally being matched to a donor heart.
The transplant surgery was a success, and Lauren was riding her tricycle through the hallways of the hospital within a week. Her new, strong heart has been beating ever since.
Moving to Colorado
When Lauren was 9 years old, her father was transferred to the Air Force base at Colorado Springs. That’s when Lauren began coming to Children’s Hospital Colorado for care.
Because they have lived in so many cities, Cristi jokes that they’ve done a “nationwide tour of children’s hospitals.” Yet she says the care they’ve received at Children’s Colorado has been outstanding.
“It’s just amazing,” she said. “Having been to a lot of children’s hospitals, I can say that they’re one of the best. They help me to sleep better at night.”
In addition to being treated at the Children’s Colorado Heart Institute, Lauren also receives treatment at the hospital’s Gastrointestinal Eosinophilic Diseases program for eosinophilic esophagitis. This chronic allergic condition causes severe inflammation of the esophagus, so Lauren has had a lot of difficulties with eating. Thankfully, after finding a feeding therapist at Children’s Colorado who has the exact same condition, Lauren has made great progress.
“Her therapist really understands her needs, and it’s made all the difference,” said Cristi.
Last winter, Lauren experienced back-to-back heart transplant rejection episodes – one of which required her to be airlifted from Colorado Springs to Children’s Colorado in Aurora. Since then, Lauren has been stable, but it’s possible she might need another heart transplant at some point in the future.
“We have dreams that by the time she needs another heart transplant, we’ll be able to have the surgery at the new hospital in Colorado Springs,” said Cristi.
With the help of generous donors, we can make that dream a reality. Until then, Lauren continues to receive the bulk of her treatment at Children’s Colorado in Aurora while living her life to the fullest in Colorado Springs. She loves doing crafts, playing with dolls and singing with the Colorado Springs Children’s Chorale.
“She faces every day – all her medical challenges – like it’s no big deal,” said Cristi. “I’m so proud of her.”