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Published: Saturday, 12/27/2008

Heart recipient embraces 'miracle'

BY JULIE M. McKINNON
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Aly Courville is taking it easy after receiving a heart transplant little more than a month ago, but the Springfield Township teen is formulating her plans for the new year.

The Springfield Middle School eighth grader, who turns 14 on New Year's Day, wants to join the track team in spring. For next Christmas vacation, Aly wants to go skiing. Such sports were inconceivable before her damaged heart was replaced at Cleveland Clinic.

"It's been a miracle," Aly said yesterday, three days after she was released from medical care in Cleveland.

She added: "I definitely want to run track. I've always wanted to."

Aly was born with a hole in her heart, and she had a heart attack at age seven months when a vein accidentally was cut during surgery to fix the defect, her mother, Lisa Courville, said.

While the Courvilles knew their only daughter would need a heart transplant, they didn't know how old she would be, Mrs. Courville said.

Aly's heart muscle was so deteriorated she had just 6 percent function before receiving the transplant at Cleveland Clinic on Nov. 24, three days before Thanksgiving, she said.

"The doctors were amazed," Mrs. Courville said. "They said they didn't know how she was living."

A few days after surgery, Aly was visited at the hospital by Cleveland Browns quarterback Brady Quinn. Aly was groggy from sedation, so she hopes to see again the football star she has followed since he played at the University of Notre Dame, she said.

"It was a surprise," Aly said. "I did not know that he was coming."

Aly was discharged from Cleveland Clinic on Dec. 8, but she stayed at the Ronald McDonald House of Cleveland with her mother and younger brother, 4-year-old Colin, for a couple of weeks for followups while her father, Todd, traveled back and forth. Heart-transplant patients typically require longer nearby stays after hospital discharge, but Aly was sent home Tuesday to spend the holiday in Springfield Township, Mrs. Courville said.

"We were supposed to stay a month, but because it was Christmas and she was doing so well, they let us come home," Mrs. Courville said.

Before the transplant, Aly was weak, tired, and breathless, and she could only attend school for half days.

For the time being, Springfield Middle School will provide at-home tutoring because her immune system still is weak, but she should be back in school in spring after flu season has passed, Mrs. Courville said.

The first year after transplant is the riskiest, but the latest biopsy of Aly's heart showed little rejection, so the medications are working, Mrs. Courville said.

"I can sleep better at night," she said.

Aly was admitted to Cleveland Clinic on Nov. 20, and the family was told later that day a transplant match had been found for her. Two prior possibilities were not so good as matches, she said.

"I was very blessed because I only waited four days in the hospital," she said. "This heart was perfect."

Contact Julie M. McKinnon at:

jmckinnon@theblade.com

or 419-724-6087.



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