For Sydney Mitchell, 12, and her mother Shawna Dunn, having the support of a community like Golden during difficult times makes everything much more manageable for them.
“We’re so lucky to live here and to have family support and lots of friends,” Shawna said. “It makes such a big difference.”
Sydney, a twin to sister Syenna, has battled health issues her entire life after being born with hypoplastic left heart syndrome, a rare heart defect where the left ventricle of the heart is critically underdeveloped.
Typically the defect is corrected with a series of three open heart surgeries over the course of several years in order to re-route the blood flow so that the body can function with just one pumping chamber.
Six months after Sydney’s second open heart surgery she went into massive congestive heart failure.
After that complication she was put on the heart transplant list in 2004. For seven months that year the family lived in Edmonton while waiting for a heart to become available. Sydney received her new heart in July.
“(After that) she did really well up until 2007 when we went to Edmonton for a routine biopsy,” Shawna said. “As soon as they put her out she had a massive heart attack and went into cardiac arrest. We spent the next couple months up there and she had a pacemaker put in.”
n case of another heart attack, Sydney carries a portable defibrillator with her wherever she goes. Her mom, school teachers and all of her sisters (in addition to Syenna, Sydney has two other sisters, Carrington and Michaela) have all received training with the defibrillator. Thankfully, the device has never had to be used.
Sydney had done well since her heart attack, but in 2011 she was diagnosed with coronary artery disease. Basically, her body has started rejecting her new heart, which has led to her current complications. Up to this point the problem has mainly affected a few major arteries. One of her arteries is completely blocked and two others are experiencing partial blockage issues as well.
Shawna and Sydney must make frequent trips to hospitals in Calgary and Edmonton where Sydney’s heart is constantly monitored.
Despite this, Sydney continues to live a normal, energetic life. She remains very active and enjoys many different hobbies and activities that are typical of most children in Golden.
“I like movies, skiing, swimming, rock climbing and biking in the summer,” Sydney said.
Eventually she will need to have another heart transplant, and it could become necessary for Sydney to go on a transplant list at any time. Once that happens, Shawna will once again move to Edmonton with her daughter as they wait for a new heart to become available.
In January the owners of the Golden A&W, Graham and Kara Mann (who live next door to the family), organized a raffle in support of Sydney.
“They’re your neighbours so they always know what’s going on in your life in a small town,” Shawna said of how the raffle started. “Their kids are always over here, and our kids are always next door, and they’re pretty wonderful.”
The draw raised $1,263 and will help Shawna pay for travel and medical expenses, as well as lost wages when she has to take Sydney out of town for appointments.
In the past, Shawna has made and sold vegetarian samosas as another means of raising funds for her daughter. Those who are interested in purchasing samosas from Shawna should keep their eyes peeled over the next few weeks as she is planning to accept orders again this spring.