Parchment family basks in toddler's recovery from heart transplant, Parchment, Michigan
PARCHMENT — Lindsay Dean is a fighter. If the toddler doesn’t get the attention she wants, she raises her voice louder and louder until you can’t help but notice her. When she wants to draw a picture, she scribbles crayons across her brothers’ bedroom wall. “She definitely knows what she wants,” said Lindsay’s mom, Suzie. “There’s a little temper down in there.”
And a strong will to live. Not quite 2 1/2 years old, Lindsay has undergone seven surgeries on her way to receiving a new heart. “I’m so glad she has that personality, because I don’t know if any other kind of personality would have made it through what she did,” her mother said. Lindsay’s story first surfaced in late 2008 when the Parchment community began to raise money to help pay medical bills for Lindsay, who was born with an underdeveloped heart. Lindsay’s body hasn’t rejected the new heart since the transplant surgery 17 months ago. In fact, she’s been doing so well lately that doctors haven’t scheduled another follow-up appointment until late February at the University of Michigan C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital in Ann Arbor.
So on this Thanksgiving weekend, Suzie and her husband, JR Dean, are thankful — for Lindsay being out of the hospital, for the family being together, and for the community rallying behind them in their time of need.
Lindsay has wide blue eyes, a button nose and loves attention. She’s as feisty as any toddler. “Tada!” Lindsay grins as she bounces her crackers like rubber balls in her high chair. “Aww, Linds,” laughs her father. “There’s never a dull moment.” Even though Lindsay, who the family has nicknamed “Princess,” seems healthy now, she has suffered a few setbacks since the transplant surgery. She was hospitalized three times, including a scare when paramedics airlifted her to the Ann Arbor hospital in October 2009. Doctors feared Lindsay, who had a fever and was lethargic, might be rejecting her new heart.Their fears were short-lived. It was a false alarm — only a virus perhaps — that made Lindsay sick. Her heart was fine. “We were pretty relieved the next morning,” said Suzie, 34, a part-time manager at Ultra Tan and Travel who also runs her own photography studio. “They don’t airlift somebody for no reason.” Despite the hospital visits, there have been no signs that Lindsay’s body cannot handle the heart, although, her mother added, “She could reject it at any time.” Lindsay’s immune system is also still weak and makes her more susceptible to illness. “There’s always something in the back of your mind,” Suzie said. “Anything can happen any day.”
For the first year of her life, Lindsay’s skin was a grayish hue.It was evidence of her condition, a congenital defect known as hypoplastic left heart syndrome, that caused the left side of her heart to be underdeveloped. “She was very sick,” Suzie said. “She was running out of time.” Lindsay’s name was put on the organ transplant list in November 2008, and her parents waited. Meanwhile, friends held fundraisers to help pay the family’s expenses. A silent auction on Valentine’s Day 2009 brought in 300 people and $16,000. JR’s employer, Landscape Forms, was also supportive, allowing him to miss three consecutive months of work when Lindsay’s health worsened. Then the call came. On his cell phone, JR still saves the message — an incoming call at 3:32 p.m. on June 4, 2009. A heart had been found for Lindsay, he learned on that day. “I almost missed it because I didn’t recognize the number. Then I noticed the area code was Ann Arbor,” said JR, 38. Six hours after the successful surgery on June 5, Lindsay, always the fighter, tried waking up. “She was moving her foot, a wake-me-up-type of thing. We all laughed. That was her little signal,” Suzie said. “She wanted to get up.”
Lindsay came home in July 2009 after a 296-day hospital stay that was so long, that life at the hospital felt normal for Suzie. “We were trying to get to 300 (days),” JR joked. The changes in Lindsay’s health have been dramatic. Her skin now has a healthy glow, the gray color gone.She learned to walk this year, after spending the first 12 months of her life in a crib. She has experienced other firsts, too, like her first trip to the zoo and the beach and eating s’mores for the first time with her older brothers Cole, 7, and Cruz, 4, on a camping trip. The family also returns to Ann Arbor to hand out gift bags filled with stuffed animals, warm socks and blankets for infants who are having their first surgery in the hospital, an experience the Deans know too well. They are families “that are going through what we went through,” JR said. So far, the Deans have given out about 100 baskets, which they called “Love From Lindsay Baskets.”
On a recent November day, Lindsay shows off her very pink bedroom filled with dolls and a pink U-M blanket, a frilly room for the only girl in the Dean family. When their parents aren’t watching, Cole gently brushes Lindsay’s hair out of her eyes. The first-grader at Parchment Central Elementary School is a good big brother who is very “lovey-dovey” with his baby sister, Suzie said. Cruz, on the other hand, appears to have inherited the same traits as Lindsay. “They’re two peas in a pod. I have a feeling they’ll be at it (when they’re older). They’re very —,” Suzie says, hesitating. “What’s the word? I don’t want to say bullheaded, but very headstrong.”