Kid Captain overcomes three major heart surgeries


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Twenty weeks into Heidi Schmidt’s first pregnancy, the mother of two and her husband received staggering news. Doctors informed the couple that the left side of their unborn child’s heart was underdeveloped.

“It was a little hard to take at first,” Kevin Schmidt said. “There was definitely a lot of uncertainty.”

Within seven days of the birth of Ellie Schmidt, doctors at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics performed major heart surgery.

The surgery, known as the Norwood procedure, is typically performed on newborns whose left ventricle does not develop properly. The Norwood procedure was only the first of three successful surgeries five-year-old Ellie has endured, and there is a possibility she will require additional surgeries in the future.

Trudy Pierick, pediatric cardiologist at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics, said Ellie’s condition was one of the more uncommon that she’s seen.

“Ellie had one of the most complex heart problems someone could have,” she said. “With what the family’s been through and how they’ve responded has been monumental.”

Although Ellie is only 5 years old, she has been through more major medical hardship than many will have in their entire lifetime. She has had major heart surgeries as a newborn, a 5-month old, and a 4-year-old.

Although all her surgeries have been deemed successful, Ellie went through a rough period between her second and third operations. Pierick said she was nearly put on the transplant list.

Kevin Schmidt said his daughter had a hard time getting around, and even walking by herself before her third surgery.

Her latest surgery took place in May 2011 and kept her in the hospital for 30 days.

After Ellie was released from the hospital, the Schmidts immediately noticed a change in Ellie’s demeanor and activity.

“There was a night and day difference,” Kevin Schmidt said.  “The staff [at the UIHC] is the best in the nation, in our opinion.”

James Davis, cardiothoracic surgeon at the UIHC, has performed all three of Ellie’s surgeries. He considers Ellie’s condition to be fairly common in his line of work.

“She was a typical patient of mine,” Davis said. “She had a very serious condition and has done very well with it.”

The Schmidts’ second daughter, 2-year-old Katelyn, was born without any major complications.

However, they were well aware of the potential health complications she might face.

“Those thoughts kind of came up in our minds,” Kevin Schmidt said. “You wonder if it could happen again.”

The Schmidts are expecting their third child in December.

Ellie’s parents, residents of Center Point, Iowa, are currently involved in the Heart Friends Support Group through UIHC, an organization tailored to help parents and family cope and share their experiences of having a child with congenital heart disease.

Heidi Schmidt is a mentor in the program and helps new parents deal with their child’s medical hardships.

“It’s a great network,” Kevin Schmidt said. “It’s very helpful for families dealing with a child with a heart condition.”

Ellie and her family attended the Northern Iowa/Iowa football game in Iowa City on Sept. 15, and she was chosen as a kid captain for this week’s away game against Indiana University.

Ellie has recently taken up dance, and she will start kindergarten next year. Although she has to occasionally take breaks due to her medical condition, she has impressed her parents with her resiliency.

“It’s really reassuring to see her enjoy it, and to not have any major restrictions,” Kevin Schmidt said.

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