- Posted December 1, 2013 by
La Crosse, Wisconsin
The Girl with a Broken Heart
That is how old Laiken Gassman was when she began her life long journey to mend her broken heart. Though in reality, the journey started before Laiken was even born. She was diagnosed with a hyperplastic right heart or tricuspid atresia. In other words, the valve between the upper and lower chambers of her heart never fully developed and caused her to not have a right pumping chamber. In addition she had a transposition of the great arteries and vessels, atrial and ventricular septal defects (ASD/VSD), and pulmonary stenosis that narrowed the arteries attached to the heart.
At 3 months old, Laiken had her first major procedure called a BT Shunt. With this surgery she received more oxygenated blood to help out her body until she was old enough for a correction surgery.
“I couldn’t believe what was happening,” said Lori Boyer who is Laiken’s mother. “I was very scared of the unknown and didn’t fully understand the nature of the situation and always blamed myself.”
In March 1998, about a year after her first major surgery, Laiken faced her first near death experience with a Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV) that turned into pneumonia resulting in her being flown by helicopter to Advocate Hope Children’s hospital twice during major snow storms.
“It was terrifying and I knew she needed it done,” said Lori. “But as a mother it’s still very hard to see your child go through something like that.”
Less than a year later after her near death experience Laiken faced an even bigger obstacle that was standing in her way, her first open heart surgery.
This surgery was called a Fontan procedure and it involved a complete reconstruction of her heart. Due to her red and blue blood mixing together, surgeons closed off her pulmonary arteries and her right atrium next to the vena cava to build a wall like structure in order to redirect the correct blood flow into her heart.
The surgery was a success, but in September 2006 Laiken would encounter what would be her second open heart surgery to enlarge her VSD so blood flow wasn’t getting constricted.
“That is when it first hit me.” Laiken stated quietly. “It was when I realized how serious this was and understood what open heart surgery really meant.”
Finally in March 2011, Laiken underwent her most recent open heart surgery that consisted of modifying the Fontan that was placed inside her many years before due to it leaking and failing causing multiple negative symptoms.
“I felt cold and like everything around me stopped for a second,” Laiken gasped. “For the first time in my life I thought to myself that I could maybe die.”
Though Laiken is cleared to do anything that other kids can do including playing volleyball, being on the dance team, and playing around with her 11 siblings she still has to be very careful and cautious so she doesn’t have a return trip to Chicago in the immediate future.
“I tried to stay happy and look forward to seeing Laiken after her surgeries,” smiled Aiden Gassman, Laiken’s younger brother. “She was always in my mind and I hoped and prayed for her to be better.”
Today Laiken has pulmonary hypertension or extra collateral veins and continues her battle to someday have a normal heart.
In a recent trip to Chicago on a standard checkup procedure, Laiken received news that in the future a heart transplant was a pretty strong possibility. This news created mixed emotions throughout Laiken’s large family, but hit Lori the hardest of them all.
“It’s always going to be right there and things could always change,” Lori said. “I never thought that a transplant would be an option and now it’s surreal and we know someday we will have to travel down that road.”
With all the things that Laiken has had to overcome in her life so far a family trip to Hawaii funded by the Make-A-Wish Foundation was just what she needed to put a smile on her face. She continues to stay strong and refuses to let her broken heart change the way she lives her life today.
“Even going through everything that I have had to overcome I wouldn’t change a thing,” expressed Laiken. “This has made me into the person I am today and I think it has made me a lot stronger.”