Each year, during my fund-raising campaign on behalf of Children's Hospital, I write about miraculous lifesaving work done by Children's surgeons. It doesn't get much more miraculous than a successful heart transplant. My associate, Lynn Ryzewicz, has the story of a Prince George's County girl who is nearly six months past her transplant, and doing fine.
Brittany Plater, a 9-year-old from Fort Washington, never liked being an only child. On June 9, she was given a new heart -- and through it, eight brothers and sisters.
Brittany was born with an injury to the right side of her heart. By the time she was 4, she had undergone two operations at Children's Hospital. After the second, her surgeon, Dr. Jeffrey Sell, knew it was only a matter of time before she would need a transplant.
Last year, Brittany's heart began to fail. Lisa Plater, a single mother who works for the Naval Research Lab Credit Union in Oxon Hill, noticed that Brittany was having difficulty walking up stairs and dressing herself.
The time had come for a new heart. In September 1998, Dr. Eric Quivers, a cardiologist at Children's, put Brittany on the list for a transplant.
Then came the wait.
There are 4,317 people in the United States currently waiting for heart donations, according to the Washington Regional Transplant Consortium (WRTC). Twenty-eight live in the Washington area. A recipient must have the same blood type as the donor and weigh a similar amount.
After Brittany's ninth birthday in February, she became too sick to attend school and checked into Children's. She waited there for three months without word of a donor.
"Everybody became attached to her," Dr. Sell said. To pass the time, Brittany did filing in an office and set up a manicure business called Kids' Nails. She charged nurses 50 cents a hand. She scheduled sessions with her tutor for 6 to 8 a.m. so they wouldn't interfere with her nail business.
School is very important to her, Brittany said. Before her stay at Children's, she was approved for the gifted and talented program at her school. "She's very bright," Dr. Quivers said. "She could understand a lot of things we'd talk to a parent about."
Lisa Plater slept at the hospital every night for three months. When asked what she liked best about Children's, Lisa said it was the closeness she developed with the staff. Knowing them made it easier to leave the hospital every morning to go to work. "I knew they would take good care of her," Lisa said.
The Platers' insurance company wanted Brittany to go to Cleveland and wait for the operation there. Gale Gilmore, a social worker at Children's, helped Brittany qualify for a federal benefits program that allowed her to have the operation in her home town. "I don't think I could've made it without my family," Lisa Plater said. In Cleveland, she and Brittany would have been alone.
In the first week of June, Brittany and her mother received the news they had been waiting for. A donor had been located -- a 12-year-old girl who had been hit and killed by a drunk driver.
Brittany's first question to Dr. Quivers was: "Can I bring [the old heart] to school for show and tell?" Dr. Quivers said it might scare her classmates too much.
Brittany's operation proceeded without complication. After a month of recovery, she was home by the Fourth of July.
Today, Brittany is waiting impatiently to start fourth grade in January. A virus kept her from attending this fall. She wakes up at 5 a.m. every day to give herself an injection of medication that prevents her body from rejecting her new heart. At 6 a.m., she takes several pills, a process she has to repeat five times a day.
Brittany looks forward to an active future with her healthy new heart. She wants to join Girl Scouts and the basketball team. She's also excited to start cheerleading at the Oxon Hill Boys and Girls Club. "I wanted a heart so I could cheer again," she said.
Recently, the Platers heard from the family of Brittany's donor. WRTC gives donor families the option of contacting recipients. The Platers received a letter from the donor's family and then spoke to them by phone. The Platers asked to keep the donor family's whereabouts confidential.
From the phone call, Brittany learned that the 12-year-old accident victim had eight brothers and sisters. Some day, she hopes to meet them, she said. In the meantime, she plans to send each sibling-by-surgery a present for the holiday season, straight from her heart.
Our goal by Jan. 21: $650,000.
In hand as of Nov. 28: $55,119.15.
TO CONTRIBUTE TO THE CAMPAIGN:
Make a check or money order payable to Children's Hospital and mail it to Bob Levey, The Washington Post, Washington, D.C. 20071.
BY VISA OR MASTERCARD:
Call Post-Haste at 202-334-9000 on a touch-tone phone. Then punch in K-I-D-S, or 5437, and follow instructions.