If heart-transplant recipient Taylor Stang can look on the bright side, so can we all. (Jordan Verlage/Sun Media)
Three years ago, Taylor Stang - an energetic little girl with pink glasses and a shy smile - was weak and sickly, and in desperate need of a new heart.
Doctors discovered she had a rare heart condition called restrictive cardiomyopathy, where the heart muscle was overgrown, preventing the heart from pumping properly. The only treatment was heart transplant surgery.
Taylor, who was five at the time, suffered occasional vomiting, stomach aches and bouts of pneumonia. She also dropped to 27 pounds.
"It was very painful to watch her lose weight," said mom Cathy Stang.
"The waiting was hard too. There's nothing you can do. You can't buy her a heart. You can't make her a heart. You just have to wait for that call."
Within seven months of Taylor's diagnosis, a heart became available and she underwent surgery with success.
Less than three weeks later, Taylor was out riding her bike, which "was pretty amazing," Cathy said.
Last week, Taylor was darting around the Stollery's play area - aptly named "the beach" - running past images of palm trees and sandboxes with plastic toys and Tonka trucks.
"Look, mom," said the Rocky Mountain House girl, showing off a pink heart-shaped card she had made for her mother, the words "I love you" written with a bright red marker.
"She's full of energy," said Cathy, laughing as she watched her seven-year-old daughter dash back to the arts and crafts table.
"She is so active. She does gymnastics. She skis. She skates. She just passed level two in swimming lessons. She also does tap dance. Everything a child her age can do, she does."
Dr. Yashu Coe, a pediatric cardiologist at the Stollery, was impressed with Taylor's progress.
"If you met her on the street, you wouldn't think she has had a transplant," Coe said.
However, Taylor needs to take various medications every day to survive. She is also at risk of developing cancer and infections later on as a result of anti-rejection drugs, which suppress the immune system, Coe said.
"Having a transplant is not the same as putting a new engine in the car and you're fine to go. There's a lot of fine tuning and monitoring that needs to be done," he said.
"There are some tradeoffs of being on the anti-rejection drugs, but as you can see, the payoff far outweighs the risk."
Cathy said she hopes researchers can one day develop a heart using Taylor's DNA to avoid the risk of rejection. This could also save her five-year-old daughter Brooke, in case she develops the same condition, which is genetic. Brooke gets tested regularly for signs, and it's "so far so good," Cathy said.
Recently, Taylor and Cathy travelled across the province to raise awareness about pediatric research and organ donation for the Heart and Stroke Foundation.
"(I want) to help kids," Taylor said.
"If they see you, maybe it will give them strength because you have been through a lot," Cathy said.
Coe said it's also important to acknowledge the donors in these transplants, because "nothing would be possible without their compassion and forward-thinking."
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