The long wait for Katelyn Newell has finally ended.
Wednesday evening, she successfully underwent heart transplant surgery at Riley Hospital for Children at Indiana University Health.
“The heart is in and beating,” said her happy but exhausted mother, Robin Newell, at about 8:45 p.m.
Doctors were completing the procedure and also had to run some tests and do bloodwork, Newell said. “I’m ready to see her.”
She would rejoin her daughter in the intensive care unit.
Newell had last seen Katelyn about 3 p.m., when the 8-year-old Deming Elementary student was taken to the operating room to prepare for surgery.
The transplant began about 7 p.m. and went quickly. Earlier in the day, Dr. Mark Turrentine went to an out-of-state hospital to receive the heart and take it back to Riley.
When he arrived back, the medical team, and Katelyn, were ready. Surgeons had the little girl’s chest open and she was on a bypass machine that pumped her blood through her body.
“They took out the old heart and put in the new,” Newell said.
It was a whirlwind day, full of emotion, for the family.
At 2:30 a.m. Wednesday, Newell received the much-awaited news that a suitable donor heart had been found for Katelyn. If everything checked out, a heart transplant would take place later in the day.
Newell paced the hospital floor for two hours, thinking about the major surgery ahead and waiting for Katelyn to wake up.
Katelyn, a second-grade student at Deming, has been hospitalized at Riley since Jan. 4. She was born with a heart defect and has had previous heart surgeries.
Just after 3 p.m., Newell sat in a waiting room; her daughter had just been taken to the operating room. “I'm shocked. Scared. Nervous. Happy. Overwhelmed,” Newell said in an interview. “I didn't want to let go of her.”
Her fiancé, Scott Moody, arrived at Riley about 4:30 a.m. Also in a waiting area was Monica Trotter, Newell’s mother and Katelyn's grandmother.
“We're deeply grateful to the family willing to do this” and allow their own personal tragedy — the death of a loved one — to mean a new heart and a healthy life for Katelyn, Trotter said.
Late in the afternoon, surgery was not absolute. The family needed word from Turrentine, a pediatric cardiovascular surgeon, that the donor heart would work and the transplant would happen. About 4 p.m., the family breathed a sigh of relief. Turrentine described the donor heart as “beautiful.”
Then, it was a matter of waiting for him to bring the heart back to Riley.
Katelyn learned the good news about 5:30 a.m. “She was happy and excited,” Newell said. Later that morning, Katelyn shared her news with her Deming Elementary classmates.
“I’m getting my new heart,” she told them, using iPads and Facetime. She wanted to tell her classmates personally. She spoke with each classmate, and each one gave her a long-distance hug or high-five.
As Katelyn eagerly waited for her new heart, medical staff explained to her what would happen. They showed her how they would put a surgical mask on her face as she fell asleep prior to surgery.
To prepare her, they gave her frozen plasma to thicken her blood because she has been on blood thinner. They also took X-rays and did blood work.
“She was a trooper” about not being able to eat or drink, Newell said.
Also during the day, a music therapist spent time with Katelyn, and they played guitars.
At Deming Elementary, news spread quickly in the morning. “People just broke down when they heard she is getting the heart,” said Susan Mardis, school principal. Several gathered to say a prayer for the little girl; they prayed that surgery would go well, and they also prayed for the family “who lost their child and gave selflessly” to provide a donor heart, Mardis said.
Mardis also phone-messaged Deming parents — with Newell’s permission.
Two of Katelyn’s brothers, who also attend Deming, were excited that their sister finally will get her heart. “Robert [Newell] was telling everybody,” Mardis said. He is in first grade.
Fifth-grade brother Alex Moody was happy as well. “That’s the first time I’ve seen him smile in quite a while,” Mardis said.
A school nurse, Lisa Isaacs, planned to read a story about heart transplants to Katelyn’s classmates. “We thought she could answer medical questions and will know how to deal with the children without tearing up,” Mardis said.
Sue Loughlin can be reached at 812-231-4235 or firstname.lastname@example.org.