CHICAGO - For each step of her life, 7-year-old Kaysen has had quite a team backing her, including a heart surgeon willing to have a playdate in the park.
"He has been through a lot with her and we’re very grateful for him," Kaysen’s mom, Megan VandeWerken, said.
Dr. Michael Monge, the director of pediatric heart transplantation at Lurie Children's Hospital, has now performed two heart transplants for this girl who's not yet 8 years old.
Right after Kaysen was born at Silver Cross Hospital in New Lenox, doctors discovered a problem with her heart.
Within hours, she was transferred to Lurie Children's Hospital, which has the only pediatric heart transplant program in the state.
"I was in training at that time she came in and made a decision to stay in the hospital that night just cause I had an inkling that she was quite sick," Dr. Monge said.
It's still tough for Megan VandeWerken to remember how a machine had to pump her baby's heart when it stopped beating on its own.
Soon it became clear Kaysen needed a new heart.
She received her first heart transplant at just 7 weeks old This tiny baby recovered quickly but as she grew into a little girl, the heart weakened.
Last summer, Megan got unexpected news after a check up that put Kaysen back on the transplant list.
But again her team rallied, even dancing in Tik Tok videos at the Lurie Heart Center during the long wait for a second life-saving donation.
"She was quite inspiring and courageous and after 10 months of being in the hospital, a nice heart became available," Dr. Monge said.
He flew back from vacation early to perform the surgery, just two and a half weeks ago.
"Seeing Kaysen out in an outside setting, in street clothes after 10 months in a hospital gown to see that she is out enjoying life and getting back to a normal childhood – that’s quite uplifting," Dr. Monge said.
The transplant team will keep watching Kaysen, but the plan is for her to return home to Coal City this week where a new puppy will soon join her.
The puppy’s name? None other than "Monge."
Dr. Monge tells us there are about 14,000 children admitted each year with heart failure but only 600 hearts available.
Still, he's optimistic for the future because of clinical trials underway at Lurie using a patients' own stem cells. Dr. Monge hopes that within 15 years, they can avoid heart transplants altogether.