“Don’t give up,” is eleven-year-old Christine “CC” Carman’s message for young people. After undergoing open-heart surgery in January 2018, the Cascade Middle School seventh grader is confident she can do just about anything in life. “Even as a little kid you can do anything, it just depends on how big of an imagination you have,” Christine says.

In October of 2017 a friend of Christine’s talked about having a heart murmur as they exercised during PE class. When Christine felt her own heartbeat while the two friends were running, she could feel it skip a beat. The friend recommended she talk to her doctor.

Pre-surgery with the anesthesia doctor.

Christine’s mother Sarah Carman took Christine to her regular doctor for a visit and explained that Christine had asthma-like symptoms including shortness of breath.  The doctor listened to Christine’s heart and recommended an electrocardiogram (EKG) commonly used to detect heart problems. The EKG test came back with a conclusion of “normally abnormal”, meaning there were abnormal readings within the scope of being normal.  The doctor suggested further testing, and an appointment with a cardiologist was set.

The cardiologist’s test results were more definitive. Open-heart surgery would cure Christine’s conditions of Partial Anomalous Pulmonary Venous Return (PAPVR) and Atrial Septal Defect (ASD). With PAPVR, pulmonary veins in a person’s heart returns blood to the right atrium instead of the left atrium. This causes oxygen-rich blood to flow back to the lungs instead of to the rest of the body. ASD is a hole in the heart between the right and left atrium, which causes oxygenated blood from the left side of the heart to flow through the hole into the oxygen poor right side of the heart.

Christine said, “The doctor drew me a picture, explaining what was happening with my heart and that surgery would fix it – which kind of calmed me down.” It turns out Christine’s grandmother also had ASD, a hole in her heart that closed up naturally over time.

Surgery was scheduled at Randall Children’s Hospital in Portland. The surgery was postponed when Christine caught the flu, and then rescheduled for early 2018.  Christine didn’t want the surgery to be postponed, instead wanting to be in the hospital over Christmas to help cheer up the other kids undergoing treatment. “There were a bunch of kids without friends and family and I wanted to be there for them,” Christine said.

The day before the surgery, Christine was at her grandma and grandpa’s house, surrounded by family, but worried and anxious. She stayed up late into the night texting her friends, and woke the next morning nauseated. Her Mom sent her back to bed until it was time to leave for the hospital.

Arriving at the hospital, Christine was nervous and shaky. The anesthesia team gave Christine and her cardiologist Dr. Kaysere Christine a “pink drink which tasted nasty”, and the surgery team did another EKG and ultrasound of Christine’s heart. One of Christine’s few memories is having a stuffed bunny with her.

Christine and her cardiologist Dr. Kayser

The surgery lasted 4 hours with updates every hour, starting when the first incision was made, then when Christine went on the heart bypass machine, and finally when surgery ended. By the time the surgery finished and Christine was being wheeled into the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit (PICU) her heart was beating well on its own and she was breathing without any help.

Prior to surgery, the PAPVR and ASD had caused the right side of Christine’s heart to enlarge. By the time she reached the PICU her heart had already shrunk and was returning to normal size. Christine felt better immediately, even though she caught the flu again. She felt better and had more energy being sick with the flu than she did before the surgery.

Cascade Middle School principal Mr. Rugg and counselor Mrs. Holmes visited Christine in the hospital, bringing her a teddy bear and some candy. Mrs. Enyeart emailed Christine several times to make sure everything was all right. Christine returned to school two weeks after the surgery on a part-time basis.

Upon return, classmates and teachers looked after her to make sure she got her locker open and to class.  Mr. Bechtel welcomed Christine back and let the class know to look out for her.  While her heart was now fine, her chest took time to heal from the surgery. Through cooperation with Cascade teachers, Christine made up her coursework while being out for surgery without her grades falling.

The first time Christine participated in PE class after surgery, her family realized just how sick Christine had been.  After exerting herself in PE Christine came home and told her mom, “Did you know your body is not supposed to hurt after every PE class?” What Christine’s body knew as normal – really wasn’t.  Christine had never known anything else than her body hurting after exertion.

Fast forward ten months and Christine has just finished playing on the Cascade Cavalier volleyball team. Christine was voted “Most Improved Player” for the “C” squad, and the team went undefeated for the season. “It was very fun,” she said.  During the last game, a player from the other team spiked the ball at Christine. The ball slammed Christine in the chest – but the team still got the ball back over the net. The incident did not scare Christine; she knew she would be fine.  Next, Christine is looking forward to running on the track team. She wants to run hurdle events and do the long jump.

Christine was fortunate to have her conditions discovered early; some people live their entire lives with undiscovered heart conditions.  The malfunction in Christine’s heart stunted her growth and ability to gain weight, but since the surgery in January she’s grown 6 inches and gained weight. Christine’s prognosis is for a normal life.

Christine’s not exactly sure what she wants to be when she grows up, maybe a kindergarten teacher or a nurse at Randall Children’s Hospital. Since she was in pain at Randall Children’s Hospital, “I would like to help other kids in pain,” she said

After the challenges Christine has faced she says, “I can do anything.”