News From Terre Haute, Indiana

December 24, 2013

Katelyn’s ‘perfect heart’: Family rejoices in new life transplant has given 9-year-old Katelyn Newell

Sue Loughlin
The Tribune-Star

TERRE HAUTE — Nine-year-old Katelyn Newell proudly showed off a trophy she and her team had earned during a cheer competition earlier this month in Indianapolis.

The competition was her first with the Terre Haute Young Champions.

“It was fun,” said the third-grade Deming Elementary student as she ran around her Terre Haute home and also demonstrated her mastery of the splits. She wore her black, red and white cheerleading uniform and a bow in her hair.

When her mom, Robin Newell, watched her compete that weekend, “It almost made me want to cry. It was just unbelievable. A year ago there was no way she would have been able to do that.”

A year ago, Katelyn was a very thin, pale little girl whose heart was giving out, and she needed a new one.

While she continued to go to school, she used a wheelchair there because she tired easily. She also had “rest time” during the school day. She was weak and often turned blue.

She was born with a heart defect and had previous heart surgeries. In August 2012, cardiologists at Riley Hospital for Children decided it was time to get the process started for a transplant.

Katelyn was hospitalized at Riley starting Jan. 4 and waited 31⁄2 months for a donor heart; she finally received her heart transplant April 24. She returned home at the end of May.

And today, “She is a totally different girl,” her mom says. “She’s never been this healthy in her life; she has never had this much energy.”

Katelyn, who turned 9 on Dec. 6, shows no shortage of energy as she darts around her home, rough-housing with family members or practicing her cheer routine.

Katelyn is able to walk long distances, run and “ride my bike,” she added. Her mom says, “She’s my shopping buddy,” only these days, mom is the one who wears out first.

When Katelyn was in the hospital earlier this year, she would fight when it was time to take her medications. Now, “She takes 19 pills a day, and I have no problems,” Newell said.

Katelyn takes anti-rejection medications, steroids, a few antibiotics to prevent pneumonia and a pill to prevent ulcers. Doctors are starting to wean her off some of her medications.

Her dad, Scott Moody, said Katelyn must warm up before she does intense physical activity. Also, she must cool down afterward to let her heart rate slow down.

If she goes from a normal heart rate to a fast one too quickly, it can cause her to pass out, Newell said.

Katelyn’s health routine also includes monthly bloodwork; seeing her cardiologist about every other month; and periodic biopsies to make sure there is no rejection.

Her weight is now 58 pounds; early in her extended stay at Riley, she was less than 40 pounds. “She was nothing but bones,” Newell said.

Katelyn’s doctors are happy, Newell said. They say Katelyn “got a perfect heart.”

On Monday, Katelyn talked about what she wanted for Christmas — a guinea pig and a Monster High movie. She has a Monster High doll — and the theme for her birthday party was … Monster High.

Katelyn smiles a lot and laughs easily. Last year at this time, “She was whiny a lot because she was sick, and everything would bug her,” Moody said.

The family — including Katelyn’s brothers — are planning an early summer vacation to Florida, and Moody and Newell plan to get married Aug. 9.

Christmas Eve marked the eight-month anniversary of Katelyn’s transplant — but this holiday is a stark contrast to last year’s, when Katelyn’s health was deteriorating and her family worried about what the future would hold.

Today, the family will watch joyfully as Katelyn gets up early, opens her presents and meets her new guinea pig.

“It’s amazing. I’m loving it,” Newell says, as she sees the new life that a donor heart has given her child.

Sue Loughlin can be reached at 812-231-4235 or