The possibility Abigail Franklin could lead an active, healthy lifestyle absent of heart transplant before she turned 30 years old was at one time inconceivable to her family. And when John and Eve Franklin’s middle child began experiencing the early stages of heart failure at age 15, it seemed altogether impossible.
But a life-saving surgery to correct Abigail’s rare congenital heart defect in September 2018 at Children’s Memorial Hermann Hospital has helped the 17-year-old high school junior and her family realize a reimagined future.
A new, active life
Once unable to walk from class to class without bouts of nausea or dizziness caused by stress from a unique version of congenitally corrected transposition of the great arteries (CCTGA), Abigail is now lifting weights at school and is exploring options for college.
“I’m feeling great,” Abigail said. “I’m taking a body-sculpting class. It’s the first time I’ve been able to take that kind of credit.”
After initially consulting with pediatric cardiologist Dr. Jose Quinones, the family was referred to pediatric cardiovascular and congenital heart surgeon Jorge Salazar, MD, the surgeon who performed Abigail’s life-changing procedure. Since then, the steady progress Abigail has made has been welcomed by the Franklins and has been especially gratifying for Abigail’s parents.
“It’s earth-shattering for Abigail’s father and I,” Eve Franklin said. “What a miracle. For so long we were thinking nothing could be done because of heart failure. Abigail’s life has changed forever.”
Abigail’s re-charted future started with activities like walking between classes without experiencing dizziness or trouble breathing.
“It used to be that for the first 5 minutes of class, everything was foggy because I was dizzy,” Abigail said. “I couldn’t focus for all of the time in class.”
Soon, Abigail was keeping up with her friends as they ran around at community events. Then she rode a bike for the first time since she was 10. Eventually, the Franklins were able to take an active family vacation, hiking and skiing in Colorado.
Taking the next step
Abigail and her mother recently visited a college campus together for the first time. While college has always been part of Abigail’s plans after high school, what that experience would look like and what her career options would be has changed because of her surgery.
“We were always worried about me going to college because I wouldn’t be able to get around, walking on a big campus,” Abigail said. “Now that won’t be a problem.”
An exceptional student who has kept up with her coursework throughout her surgeries and follow-up appointments, Abigail has pondered a career path in medicine, possibly one that leads her back to a neonatal intensive care unit or pediatric intensive care unit, like those she has stayed in as a patient.
Eve believes Abigail is intellectually capable of becoming a physician but was worried about the physical toll it could take. She once tried to manage her daughter’s aspirations prior to surgery.
“It was a sad conversation,” Eve said “I didn’t know if she would be able to be a doctor. If she ever got sick, her body would just wilt from the stress. Now, we were just on a college campus and she is just like everybody else and this is so wonderful.”
Coming full circle
Abigail’s favorite activity is walking to the park with her friends.
“I know that’s a smaller thing but I like going to the park with my friends,” she said.
Abigail recently returned to Children’s Memorial Hermann Hospital to have her pacemaker removed. It was the first time since she was 5 days old without a pacemaker device in her body.
She has to sit out from her body sculpting class for another month as she recovers but she’s already looking forward to rejoining the class, which consists of two days in the weight room where she can build her own workouts and then two more days following her teacher.
“I feel like I’m getting close to being average physically for someone my age,” Abigail said. “It’s been really nice being able to participate.”
There is also one day of dodgeball as part of the class, a game she’s never been able to play because of her pacemaker.
“I’m done with the pacemaker and I shouldn’t need any more surgeries.”
For more information about pediatric heart care at Children’s Memorial Herman Hospital, visit http://childrens.memorialhermann.org/heart/ or click here or call 713-222-CARE (2273) to make an appointment.