Ellie Schmidt from Center Point, Iowa, likes dancing, doing art projects, and playing with her sister. She also likes the doctors, nurses, and staff at University of Iowa Stead Family Children’s Hospital who have taken care of her since she was born.
Ellie was born with hypoplastic left heart syndrome, which means the left side of her heart didn’t develop properly. Before she was born, a routine 20-week ultrasound showed something was wrong with Ellie’s heart. Doctors referred her parents, Heidi and Kevin Schmidt, to UI Stead Family Children’s Hospital.
When Ellie was born, pediatric heart specialists almost immediately performed a procedure to open a valve in her heart. She had her first surgery, known as the Norwood procedure, to reroute the blood flow to her lungs when she was a week old. By five years old, Ellie had three major surgeries and nine catheterizations.
“It was pretty scary to start with, but everybody here is so amazing,” recalls Heidi. “The staff explained that this is a really complicated heart condition. But, since we knew ahead of time, we had a plan and knew what was going to happen.”
For the Schmidts, the pediatric cardiology team, the nurses in the pediatric intensive care unit, and the staff at UI Stead Family Children’s Hospital are more than dedicated medical professionals.
“The doctors and nurses are really an extension of your family,” Kevin says. “Everyone really, truly cares about what happens to your child. Even when you come back for just a clinic visit, they’ll stop by and see how things are going.”
Ellie became a Hawkeye fan after meeting members of the football team who’d come to visit the young patients at UI Stead Family Children’s Hospital. Ellie was 3 at the time and in the pediatric intensive care unit recovering from her third surgery. She wasn’t feeling well, says her mother. “Nothing was really making her happy. She was just feeling bad and when they came to her room, she didn’t crack a smile.” After the players left, “she was just smiling ear to ear and talking about her boyfriends—it turns out she was talking about the Hawkeye football players who came to see her!”
It’s been a long haul for the Schmidt family, but Ellie’s parents have become active in the Heart Friends Support Group. Heidi is a parent mentor and is available to talk to new parents whose children have a similar diagnosis.
Ellie faces additional procedures throughout her life, but she’s started dance lessons and performed in her first recital . “She just wants to be on stage all the time. It’s great to see her being active, even though she doesn’t have as much energy as a typical child her age,” Heidi says.
And when she grows up she wants to be a princess, a doctor, a dancer, and a mommy.