The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

February 24, 2013

Four-year-old Sheffield Township girl feels good after third heart surgery

Star Beacon

SHEFFIELD TOWNSHIP — The McCumber house recently erupted with joy when 4-year-old Gabriella ran from one side of the house to the other without feeling tired.

Many children take the ability to run for granted; not Gabriella.

She was born with hypoplastic left heart syndrome which touches four out of every 10,000 people and involves the entire left side of the heart not developing properly.

“We found out (when) I was 17 weeks pregnant,” said her mother Kelly McCumber. The family includes Kingsville residents Andy and Kelly, daughter Gabriella and her sister Rylee, 3.

Gabriella has been beating the odds since she was born.

Doctors predicted the child would be born at around five pounds, but entered the world at eight pounds 10 ounces. “After she was born she went to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit,” Kelly McCumber said.

“She was there for eight days and she had her first surgery,” she said.

Eight months later she had her second surgical procedure and her third surgery was Dec. 5 of 2012.

During the intervening years Gabriella was able to live a normal life, but got tired quickly. “She knows when to stop. She knows when she gets tired,” Kelly said.

Since the last surgery the little girl no longer has blue fingers. “For the first time she is pink,” said Gabriella’s grandmother, Debbie McCumber.

“She has more energy,” Kelly McCumber said.

It has been a long hard road for the family, but they are thankful for supportive friends and the skill of the doctors.

“A lot of people said she wasn’t going to make it,” Kelly said.

“She should be developmentally disabled, but she is not,” Debbie McCumber said of the little girl that attends a pre-school at Amboy United Methodist Church in Conneaut.

Kelly McCumber said she would advise anyone in her situation to listen to the doctor and maintain hope.

The first surgery occurred at UH Rainbow Babies and Children’s Hospital and the second two surgeries were done at the Cleveland Clinic.

“We had the same cardiologist and surgical nurses,” Kelly McCumber said of all three operations.

“They call her the miracle baby,” she said.

The last surgery included putting a shunt from the heart to the lungs, Kelly said. She said she has a clean bill of health unless the condition worsens and leads to the need for a heart transplant.

Debbie McCumber is thankful for the rapid increase in technology.

“Years ago (20) babies with this (syndrome) didn’t have any options. They died. We count ourselves blessed,” she said.

Gabriella will be able to live a fairly normal life. “She can’t do competitive sports, but anything else she can do,” Kelly said.

Gabriella will join her family during the Ashtabula County Heart Walk for the third straight year. The family has formed a team to raise money to fight heart disease.

This time, however, Garbriella will hopefully be able to walk the event instead of being carried or pushed in a stroller.

The event is schedule for 9 a.m. April 21 at Spire Institute with a 5K Fun-Run connected to the event for the first time, according to the organization’s website.

Local organizers are hoping to raise $165,000 from the event.