Alivia “Livie” Wheeler turned two years old in May, but she didn’t celebrate her birthday in the usual way. In fact, she received an early and very special birthday gift on May 7…a new heart.
Her mother Melena’s pregnancy and delivery were unremarkable, and Livie seemed like any normal newborn in the beginning. However, she didn’t gain as much weight as babies normally do. Then she didn’t reach the milestones at the same rate babies and toddlers do. Although Melena was concerned, there seemed to be no specific cause for these things.
All that changed in February of 2019. Livie began grunting and panting in an obvious effort to breathe. Melena thought perhaps her baby had autism or asthma and immediately took her to the doctor, who ordered a chest x-ray.
That was the beginning of a very tough path for the Wheeler family. The next day they received a call from the doctor and Livie was rushed to Children’s Hospital in Birmingham. The diagnosis was dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM), and Livie was a very sick little girl. DCM is the most common cause of cardiac transplantation in children.
She was released from the hospital, and the family even went on vacation. But it was cut short when Livie began having difficulty breathing, and her lips were blue. Rushing home through the night, her frightened parents, Jonathan and Melena Wheeler, knew she was in trouble. She was rushed to Children’s Hospital by ambulance, and this time she stayed.
After more testing, the doctors told Melena and Jonathan that without a heart transplant Livie was going to die. On March 25, the longest day of her parents’ lives, Livie was placed on the UNOS transplant list.
Having a compatible donor heart for such a young child isn’t common even though the clock was ticking on whether this baby would live. So, Livie’s parents were both surprised and relieved by a phone call in the middle of the night on May 7 saying, "Mrs. Wheeler, we have a match."
Part 2 of Livie’s Story will be in next week’s St. Clair News-Aegis.