Freshman Grace Lovett returns to her normal lifestyle after having open-heart surgery

Lovett's life transformed after a heart exam provided by Athletic Testing Solutions found an atrial septal defect in her heart

October 15, 2015

In memory of her open heart surgery, freshman Grace Lovett sits next to pictures of her in the hospital after her surgery last year.
By Cassidy Doran
In memory of her open heart surgery, freshman Grace Lovett sits next to pictures of her in the hospital after her surgery last year.

Walking out of her heart exam, freshman Grace Lovett never expected to exit with news of having an abnormal hole in her heart. However, this unexpected experience had a drastic effect on her future outlook.

The trouble began when a company called Athletic Testing Solutions provided an exam at De Soto High School that tested the function of Grace’s heart. After Grace’s baby sister had a heart murmur, Grace’s mother, Angie Lovett, signed the family up to be tested. On Tuesday, Aug. 19, 2014, the examiners found an atrial septal defect — a hole — in Grace’s heart.

According to Grace, the lack of accurate and perfected technology caused the family to believe there was no reason to be concerned. However, when the family traveled to Children’s Mercy Hospital on Friday, Sept. 5, they discovered Grace would have to have open-heart surgery to sew up the hole.

“It was a shock,” Angie said. “We didn’t expect anything to be wrong.”

By undergoing open-heart surgery, Grace was less likely to have future complications, according to her father, Wes Lovett. Plus, the half dollar-sized hole was too large for the other techniques to be successful.

The love, support, and encouragement from my friends and family really helped me to have confidence in what the surgeons were going to do and how I was going to get through it.”

— freshman Grace Lovett

To ease the tension and concern over the surgery, Grace met up with Shawnee Mission South High School freshman Harrison Polen, who had had the same surgery done. They got together at Starbucks and he shared his experiences with her to let her know what to expect.

“[Harrison] reassured me that it wasn’t as scary as it seemed,” Grace said. “He walked me through each day and what would happen, so I knew what was I was going into head on. He also gave me a heads up on the pain that I would have to endure, so I wasn’t as surprised when I woke from the surgery.”

In addition, Grace’s relatives and friends motivated her to stay positive and trust the doctors.

“The love, support, and encouragement from my friends and family really helped me to have confidence in what the surgeons were going to do and how I was going to get through it,” Grace said. “My faith in God really helped me too. I knew he wasn’t going to let me go like that.”

Though she had some preparation and comfort from her friends, the doctors announced the surgery date only three days before, leaving Grace with a limited amount of time to mentally prepare for it.

“The days leading up to it … were very [nerve wracking]. I had a lot of time to sit there and think about what was going to happen, so that got in my head a little bit,” Grace said. “But, I was excited for the experience. Obviously, open heart surgery was painful, but it was a cool experience and I learned a lot from it.”

For Angie, this emotional time put a lot of stress on the family and her concerns of the unknown possible outcomes terrified her.

“It was a scary time. We cried every day — I did,” Angie said. “You’re trusting doctors that you’ve never met before and didn’t know much about. [This situation] is something I wouldn’t wish on anybody.”

Despite the pain the family endured during the seven-week period of awaiting the surgery, Angie said the experience strengthened her relationship with her daughter.

“It definitely drew us closer together,” Angie said. “We were a lot nicer to each other and we have a special appreciation now.”

Then, on Oct. 15, 2014, Grace went on bypass, which stopped her heart for her open-heart surgery. The surgeons made a cut down the center of her chest and sawed through the bone, breaking her sternum. Then, they sewed up the hole, took Grace off bypass, and made a few layers of sutures. After that, they put a layer of wires in her chest and then added another layer of sutures.

The four-hour surgery was successful in eliminating the problem so that no complications would resurface, according to the doctor. Six weeks after the surgery, Grace was playing volleyball again.

“I had a four week recovery period here at home, so I stayed here ’cause I couldn’t pick up any flues or infections — that would have messed with the surgery,” Grace said.

Without the positive result from the surgery, the doctors told Grace her heart would have failed in four years. She would have needed a heart transplant. In the end, Grace could have died before the age of 18, but she said the exam offered by Athletic Testing Solutions saved her life.

The next issue of the testing will be on Saturday, Oct. 17, at Mill Valley, and then Saturday, Dec. 19, at DHS. The family encourages everyone to take the Athletic Testing Solutions test because of what it did for Grace.

“We want to spread the word of this test just because it’s not a standard test, but this awesome company is working with school districts all around… to save the kids lives,” Angie said. “We encourage everybody. It’s a very expensive test, but it’s worth the investment.”

Despite the few possible consequences, Grace’s endurance strengthened, allowing her to do things she could never have done before.

“I feel like I’m stronger now and have more energy,” Grace said. “I ran two miles for volleyball tryouts in 17 minutes. I don’t even know if I could have made it through that before.”

According to Grace, this experience gave her the desire to pursue medicine in the future. It not only helped Grace establish her goals, but it also transformed her perspective on life.

“Every day is a blessing,” Grace said. “I just want to make each day count. You never know what day is going to be your last.”

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