By CHRISTY ARMSTRONG
It was when she began to repeatedly pass out at school that 10-year-old Piper Davis truly realized she was not like all the other kids on the playground.
“If I could go back to then, I would say not to worry so much. I’ve gotten through it,” Davis said. “I now have this hope things are going to get better.”
Davis, now 35, was born with several congenital heart defects. She has undergone numerous surgeries to keep her heart working.
Her first surgery took place when she was just two weeks old. She is now on a list awaiting both a heart transplant and a liver transplant.
“I had to deal with it all as I was growing up,” Davis said. “I’m not going to lie; it was really hard.”
After her first surgery as an infant, she would continue to have more, including a major surgery at age 2 ½ in which surgeons “completely rewired” her heart.
The Cleveland native said she “got really bad sick” after that major surgery, and she almost died. However, she bounced back in a way that shocked her doctors.
“They said I would never walk again because of my heart not being strong enough,” Davis said. “I started kindergarten just like any other kid … and I walked in.”
Things went well for a while, until she began passing out at age 10. It was later learned she had a kind of arrhythmia which seriously affected her heart’s function. She had surgery to put in a pacemaker at age 11.
Davis again saw her health stabilize, until she was about 15 years old. After more arrhythmias were found in her heart, she had an ablation procedure, wherein scar tissue was destroyed to help restore the heart’s electrical system to normal. Her pacemaker was also upgraded to a double-lead pacemaker.
After having similar problems and a procedure done around age 18, she learned of a major problem at age 20.
“My doctor said I had outgrown the surgery from when I was 2 ½,” Davis said. “I had another major surgery in November 2006, and they totally rerouted everything they did when I was younger.”
After she recovered from the surgery, she felt things getting back to normal. “Normal” lasted for close to six years, until another health crisis arose.
At the age of 26, she had a urinary tract infection which left her hospitalized. At one point, she developed sepsis, making it a life-threatening infection.
“They actually lost me a few times and had to revive me,” Davis said. “My liver and kidneys were failing.”
Though she eventually recovered, the widespread infection left her with stroke-like symptoms which puzzled her and her doctors. Brain scans did not show the traditional signs of stroke, but she was temporarily disabled.
“I had to learn to use my arms again, and it was hard to walk. I also had problems talking; I just couldn’t get the words out,” Davis said.
Later outfitted with a new triple-lead pacemaker, she began working on regaining her movement and speech. After about a year, she actually got well enough that her doctors gave her the OK to begin driving a car again.
However, the infections she fought at age 20 caused irreparable damage to her heart and liver.
“My heart function over the years has dropped, which is why I need a transplant. … They also later found I had cardiac cirrhosis, with scarring on my liver,” Davis said.
Discussions about her having transplant surgery began two years ago after she was diagnosed with congestive heart failure. At the time, she said no, as she “needed some time to process” what the major surgery would mean for her.
“About a year ago, I finally decided to get evaluated at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, which is where I’ve had all my major surgeries,” Davis said.
“Everything has been signed off on [at Vanderbilt], and now I’m waiting for insurance to let me know they’ve approved everything, too.”
Davis now has a GoFundMe page set up online at www.gofundme.com/f/piperdavis. She is asking for the community’s help to raise money to help cover her transplant-related expenses.
Though she has health insurance which will cover the transplant surgery and anti-rejection medications, she expects to have to pay for at least part of a two-week stay at Vanderbilt.
She will also need to stay in the Nashville area for six weeks of check-ups and cardiac rehab. Her husband plans to help care for her after she leaves the hospital, but his employer only allows for unpaid medical leave (FMLA).
“It’s a lot, but I’m trying not to stress about it,” Davis said. “I’m excited, really. This will be a new life for me.”
Despite her health struggles growing up, she was able to achieve goals like graduating from high school. She is a graduate of Cleveland Christian School and also has a few college classes under her belt.
Her health has kept her from working and doing many of the things healthier people can do, like attend college full-time. However, she believes that could change.
“It’s overwhelming to think of the transplant,” Davis said. “I really can’t imagine my life after the transplant, because I’ve never been normal. There are some things that have never been options for me.”
Though some might find the thought of getting a heart and liver transplant at the same time to be scary, she said thoughts of her future keep her going. She added her Christian faith has also been a source of strength.
“I’m very strong in my faith. Without God, I don’t believe I would be alive,” said Davis.
Davis said she is extremely thankful for those who choose to become organ donors after they die. If she is able to have transplant surgery, the organs will come from one single donor, to ensure the heart and liver are compatible with each other.
Though some family will have to deal with a tragic loss, she is hoping organ donation will save her life and give her family a reason to celebrate.
For now, she waits. She and her husband are preparing to head to Nashville as soon as she gets the call that a heart and liver are available for her.
“It’s exciting but a little scary at the same time,” Davis said. “But it will be a new life for me, once I recover. I am looking forward to that. Who knows what that will bring?”
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