TERRE HAUTE —
Nine-year-old Katelyn Newell may just be one of those few kids who have two “birthdays,” and Thursday she celebrated one of them.
In the company of her family and classmates, Katelyn had a small party at her third-grade classroom at Deming Elementary School in celebration of the one-year anniversary of her heart transplant. Her family and friends call April 24 her “new heart birthday.”
Just like first birthdays or first anniversaries, this event was worth celebrating.
“It means that Katelyn got to live one extra year,” said mom Robin Newell, who wore a red “Katelyn” shirt marking the occasion. Katelyn’s father, Scott Moody and younger brother Robert, who is in second grade, were also at the school to celebrate.
Katelyn, whose actual birthday is Dec. 6, was born with a heart defect. The previously thin, pale girl, had other heart surgeries in the past but in August 2012, doctors at Riley Hospital for Children determined that a heart transplant was needed.
She was hospitalized for four months, and spent a majority of that time waiting for a donor heart. The transplant was completed April 24, 2013.
“If she did not receive the heart, she will not be here,” Newell said.
Katelyn returned home at the end of May but the journey did not end there.
“The first year is the most important year after transplant,” Newell said.
During the last 12 months, the family had to go through a period of adjustment. They learned about the do’s and don’ts that come with taking care of Katelyn’s delicate condition. Washing hands and wearing shoes all the time were important to ward off any germs. For about the first six months, Katelyn even wore masks and gloves. It was also important to keep her away from those who are sick.
These efforts paid off.
“She has had an excellent year,” Katelyn’s grandmother Monica Trotter said while at the party. Katelyn suffered no complications and was not hospitalized during the year, “not even for fever,” Newell said.
“She got a beautiful, healthy heart,” Trotter said.
And she has come a long way in the last year.
At her party, the active and happy 3rd grader read to her class a book about a teacher getting “the gift of a new heart.” The book is called “How will they get that heart down your throat? A Child’s View of Transplants.”
After reading, the students ate some snacks brought by Katelyn’s family — apples, juice, heart-shaped cupcakes, and cookies with a “K” written on it. At one point before getting her food, Katelyn, who loves cheerleading, jumped up and down with excitement.
Her favorite? The apples.
“Because they’re healthy,” she said.
Her classmates seemed to agree. When asked by teacher Sarah Mains to vote for the snack the kids would recommend, it appeared that all of them raised their hands for apples.
In addition to learning math and reading that day, the students also learned about health and nutrition, Mains said. The day’s activities were also heart-themed.
“It’s been a fun day for everybody,” Mains said and she’s glad to get the opportunity to celebrate with Katelyn.
Gone are the days when Katelyn was weak and often turned blue. The girl who used to get around school in a wheelchair because she tired easily is now a girl who is active and ready to learn.
“She’s at school everyday on time with a smile on her face,” said Mains.
“She’s full of energy. She’s always positive, always upbeat,” Mains added.
And as she glanced at Katelyn sitting with a four classmates eating their snacks, she saw a strong girl who is “just like a typical third grader,” she said.
Tribune-Star Reporter Dianne Frances D. Powell can be reached at 812-231-4299 or firstname.lastname@example.org.