A mighty heart

When a nurse examined Avery Nepoose a week after she was born in January 2005, something didn't seem right. Her coloration was off; her heartbeat was irregular; and she was sleeping more than most babies. The nurse told her mother, Leaha Potts, to take her from their home in Maskwacis (formerly Hobbema) to the nearest hospital in Wetaskiwin for a more thorough checkup.

She did, but then went home to get a change of clothes. By the time she returned, everything had changed.

“They had her in a different room, and they had a manual oxygen pump where they were working on her,” Potts says. “They said her colour wasn’t looking good and her oxygen wasn’t [good].”

The symptoms were perplexing enough that doctors decided to risk a white-knuckle, firetruck-escorted transfer to the Stollery Children's Hospital in Edmonton, 90 kilometres away, in frigid winter weather. Eventually, Avery was diagnosed with a number of heart conditions, including total anomalous pulmonary venous drainage (TAPVD), in which pulmonary veins don't connect with the left atrium of the heart, causing blood to drain back into the right side of the heart.

Avery was rushed into a six-hour open heart surgery, which was delicate but successful. “I don’t even remember those six hours,” Potts says. “To this day, I still think, ‘What the heck was I doing? Where was I even sitting?’ I was just in shock, and you’re grieving at the same time.”

Thankfully, though, that was the only surgery Avery needed. There also haven’t been many complications as she has grown up. Today, Avery and Potts live in Maskwacis, and Avery attends school in Wetaskiwin, where she really enjoys art classes.

Potts says it means a lot to her and others living in rural Alberta to have the Stollery's world-class pediatric care in their backyard. “It’s a bit of a drive — an hour and something — but the drive is nothing to have the Stollery there. When we were there, there were people from all over Canada. We’re so blessed to be in Alberta where the Stollery is so close.”