While she was waiting at the bus stop in September 2010, 12-year-old Aaliyah Utti fainted on the way to school.
She went to the emergency room and was diagnosed with cardiomyopathy, a disease that weakens the heart muscle and makes it hard for the heart to pump blood to other parts of the body, said Dr. William Mahle, Aaliyah's doctor. Dr. Mahle is the medical director of the Heart Transplant Program at Children's Healthcare of Atlanta and an associate professor of pediatrics at Emory University School of Medicine.
Aaliyah was discharged after a week, and Dr. Mahle continued to follow her symptoms.
“Something didn't look right with her heart,” said Sophia Allen, Aaliyah's mother. “To go up the staircase was a struggle for her.”
In February 2011, Aaliyah developed a cough, and doctors discovered she had blood clots and would need a heart transplant.
“I was not expecting anything like that,” Allen said. But, “there was no alternative, so if that's what she had to do to live a normal life, we decided we would do it.”
“I didn't want it,” Aaliyah said of the transplant. But now that it's happened, she said she's glad to feel the same as she did before she started having heart problems.
Aaliyah only had to wait a few days to find a transplant, Dr. Mahle said, and she received her new heart on March 12.
Allen said her religious faith helped her deal with Aaliyah's heart transplant.
“I was not that nervous, because I put everything in our power's hands,” Allen said. “She was not nervous – some kids would be crying, but she was so calm.”
Being in the hospital was “a little different,” Aaliyah said. “People kept coming in my room.” But her family came to visit her and bring her food.
“She had a lot of friends come in and visit her. I think – like any teenager – she was pretty frightened,” Dr. Mahle said. But “she went home six days later, which is pretty remarkable.”
Aaliyah was able to go back to school in the first week of April, Allen said.
“They were talking about homeschool, but she made such an effort and her recovery was so fast” that she was able to go back to the seventh grade at McConnell Middle School, Allen said.
Now that Aaliyah has recovered, she and her mother are thankful for the doctors and nurses who did the operation.
“We were very grateful for the services we got from the whole crew – the nurses, the doctors,” Allen said.