Heart transplant gives West Virginia girl second chance at life

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (WHSV) – It’s hard to tell from all her energy and smiles, but earlier this month 3-year-old Charlee Hoover had a heart transplant. Her mother, Danielle said she had a healthy pregnancy up until the day she was born.

“As time went on they kept saying something is wrong something is not right. They called the pediatrician, and she had come up right away. She did her assessment, and she came in and talked to me and said we are going to have to life flight Charlee to WVU, there is something wrong with her heart,” Hoover explained.

“Her disease is called tricuspid atresia,” Dr. Thomas L’Ecuyer explained. Dr. L’Ecuyer is the medical director of the UVA Pediatric Heart Transplant Program.

“She ended up being a variant of what we call a single ventricle. Essentially, she was born with half a heart,” Dr. Alex Verhoeven with WVU Medicine Children’s. Dr. Verhoeven has worked with Charlee since the day she was born.

Usually, the treatment for this kind of defect would involve palliation.

“We are sort of rerouting the plumbing and taking things so that it goes from being two separate systems and making it into one big system,” Dr. Verhoeven explained.

“But, she developed heart failure and elevation of her pulmonary artery pressures that would not allow her to complete palliation,” Dr. L’Ecuyer added.

Charlee had spent most of her life in and out of the hospital, went through several surgeries and was in need of a heart transplant.

“I think eventually her condition would have claimed her life. It may have been in years, but her condition was not compatible with expecting her to be healthy enough to go to school and play with other kids and have a bright future,” Dr. L’Ecuyer explained.

The family was connected with cardiologists at UVA since WVU does not yet perform heart transplants.

Her mother said she was listed for the organ on July 15 and started receiving offers a week later. By August 2, she was back at the hospital for vascular scans.

“Eight days later, at 1:42 in the morning, we got the phone call from Dr. White that Charlee had an offer. It was a really good offer and we needed to get to UVA. I’m like we are already there,” she said.

Dr. L’Ecuyer says her operation took about 8 hours.

“You have to connect all the blood vessels that come off the heart and make sure they connect to the ones in her body. Make sure you don’t have an obstruction or narrowing to any of your connections that you make and then it is a matter of making sure the heart works well when you come off the heart-lung machine,” Dr. L’Ecuyer explained. “Her procedure was really quite standard and went along quite smoothly.”

”First thing we noticed was how pink her toes and fingers were that was the first thing we noticed. Charlee always had a blue tint to her. Her toes were always blue, fingers were always blue, lips were always blue, that was just a part of her heart condition,” Danielle said. “She can do whatever she wants to, she done been through three open heart surgeries. Once she sets her mind to something, she is going to do it, whatever she wants to do. I want her to do whatever makes her happy and she is full of sass and full of spunk, so I know she will make it.”

You can follow along with Charlee’s journey on Facebook at Charlee’s Heart Story.

On October 1, there will be a benefit dinner, silent auction and raffle at Pendleton County High School. The money raised will support Charlee’s medical expenses.

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