Every single day Keisha Merrill’s heart pumps out 115 beats per minute.
That’s equal to doing moderate cardio, like hiking, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
So, why is her heart pumping at such a high rate? It’s because hers is only half as big as yours.
Keisha was born with both hypoplastic left heart syndrome and a single ventricle defect in her heart. Patients diagnosed with HLHS have a fully formed heart on the right side, but not the left. A single ventricle defect means one lower ventricle, or chamber, does not develop — resulting in decreased oxygen flow to the body.
This resulted in Keisha having to undergo a Fontan procedure, a kind of open-heart surgery.
Villie JoLe is Keisha’s mother, and said Keisha didn’t run into any complications until the age of 12.
“That’s when her liver started to enlarge due to the Fontan procedure. She has constant blood flow because they had to do some stems to her lungs to pump blood to her lungs. Her liver is soaking that up. So, she’s definitely going to need a heart and liver transplant at the same time,” she said.
Keisha is now 14. JoLe is hoping the transplant would happen in Keisha’s early 20s. With these complications, doctors have cautioned that it’s difficult to know the long-term outcome for these children.
Taking things in stride
Because her heart has to work so hard every minute of every day, Keisha gets tired very easily.
“When I’m at school, I get really tired. Right when I get home, I’ll go upstairs and fall asleep. It really tires me out,” said Keisha.
As a result, she often can’t do all the things she wants to do. Which makes things hard for both Keisha and the family, because JoLe says despite these medical complications, “she’s just like any other kid.”
“She likes to go swimming, she likes to play every game she possibly can, that her body will let her. One time, I took my twins to a flag football game, and of course, Keisha went and played in between games. The coach was like, ‘Who’s that girl? I want her on my team.’
“Then, that happened again in baseball. We took our boys to baseball, and Keisha played around with them, and their coach also said, ‘Who’s that girl? I want her on my team,'” says JoLe.
When her body allows her she’s just as active, if not more so, than any other teenager.
But when it doesn’t, she’s learned to accept it.
“She’s just such a great kid. She takes it in such good strides. Never gives any attitude. She always accepts the things she can’t do, and she’s just a great overall child. I mean, she won the most outstanding award in school this year. So, she’s a really good, understanding, kind, caring child,” said JoLe.
This year, Keisha was set on playing volleyball, her favorite sport. But because of her heart, she couldn’t.
While this was a big letdown for her and her family, it’s also what spurred a wish-come-true for Keisha.
“A friend of mine actually talked to me about Make-A-Wish years ago. This year, when she couldn’t play volleyball, she asked if we could do the Make-A-Wish. That’s where it all started.
“When she couldn’t play volleyball, that was the point she really realized she couldn’t do some of her favorite things,” said JoLe.
So, what did Keisha wish for? An all-expense-paid shopping spree in Sioux Falls.
“I picked a shopping spree because I wanted to get new stuff for myself and my grandpa. I want to go to Best Buy to get a new phone, and really want to go to the HomeGoods store. I’d like to remake over my room at home. I want everything to be white, and put plants around my room,” said Keisha.
Her shopping spree started at Build-A-Bear. But that stop wasn’t about her.
Keisha’s grandmother died when she was younger, and said she wanted to use this wish as a way to show support to her grandpa.
“I want to build a bear for my grandpa, and put my grandma’s voice in it for him,” she said.
From there, Keisha to stores like Zumiez, GameStop, Best Buy and HomeGoods.
This all happened on a Saturday. But, on Friday night, Keisha asked for one more thing: a night out at the Sanford Sports Complex’s Great Shots, a place she’s always wanted to go with her family.
When Great Shots director of operations Jonathan Buckley learned about this, he couldn’t wait to help. He wanted to give Keisha and her family an opportunity to forget about the struggles they’ve faced and have a night full of fun, family, laughter and love.
“When you have the opportunity to give them a fun evening with their friends or family and take their minds off of what they’ve been going through, I think it’s pretty special. Those tug at us, and we were very invested in this one.
“I think it’s just one more way Sanford shows its footprint in the communities it’s involved in. It really speaks volumes. They want it to be more than just a hospital. They want families to be able to create special moments. I think we did that tonight.”
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