Like many school children of her age, Caitlin Simpson, 8, from Taupo loves to participate in physical activities and regular kid adventures like rope climbing and kayaking. However, such adventures in life can sometimes seem a little out of reach for Caitlin. She was never allowed to attend school camp because of her heart condition.
Caitlin would tell her friends that she had a ‘broken heart’. She was diagnosed with a VSD (Ventricular Septal Defect) when she was just two. At the time, the condition did not affect her and she seemed a normal child, with no symptoms of her condition showing at all.
The reality hit when a routine echocardiogram at age five revealed Caitlin’s condition was more serious than first diagnosed. She was born with ALCAPA (Anomalous Left Coronary Artery off the Pulmonary Artery), a condition where the left coronary artery is attached to the pulmonary artery instead of the aorta.
This news was really hard for Caitlin’s mum Trudy to accept. To now know that her healthy child actually had a serious heart condition and needed corrective surgery to save her life was difficult to grasp.
In October 2008, Caitlin underwent surgery at Starship Children’s Hospital to correct her condition. Trudy said, “This was to be the longest 8 ½ hours of our lives. Nothing can prepare you for any of this - seeing your little girl hooked up to all those machines in PICU.”
Thankfully, the surgery was successful and Caitlin recovered quickly from it.
“The medical team was amazing giving Caitlin a new lease of life. The family support workers @Heart have also provided us tremendous practical and emotional support during the whole process. They are just a phone call away and are always there for us,” said Trudy.
Last year, Caitlin returned to Starship to undergo another procedure as she had been showing signs of fatigue during sport. While the results came back with nothing untoward at this stage, it serves as a reminder than Caitlin will always have ongoing heart problems and will need annual check-ups with her cardiologist & paediatrician to monitor her condition.
Caitlin continues to manage her heart condition and she has decided to join the Heart Rider team at Lake Taupo Cycle Challenge event again this year. Even though she may not be able to finish the distance, she wants to challenge herself and to raise awareness of the scale and scope of childhood heart conditions in New Zealand.
This year, funds raised through the support of the Contact Lake Taupo Cycle Challenge cyclists will go towards Kids@Heart and helping little hearts have a big adventure at Camp Brave Hearts, a camp run annually (funds permitting) in Taupo by @Heart for Kiwi heart kids aged 8 – 12 years.
Camp Brave Hearts is a week-long event for heart kids to just be kids, to do regular adventurous kid things, and share their challenges in a fun, safe, supportive environment under the careful supervision of a medical team.
Caitlin is looking forward to her Heart Ride in November and even more so, to going to Camp Brave Hearts in January 2012.
You can help a heart kid like Caitlin have a big adventure by setting up a fundraising page on www.everydayhero.co.nz/event/cyclechallenge2011 and ask your family, friends and whanau to help support your ride by making a donation towards @Heart. NP. You can also text HEART to ‘2427’ to make a donation.