Grace's Heart

By Matt Pearl, 11Alive

It's a story about wanting to preserve a child's innocence, even through the scariest of times.

"They took one look at her heart," mother Audrey Callahan recalled, "and the doctors said, 'You need to be prepared that she may not make it.'"

That was back when Grace was born -- with an enlarged heart. Her parents knew that, at some point, she'd need a transplant. But they didn't tell their daughter, wanting to allow her to live as normal a childhood as possible.

"To tell a 3- or 4-year-old they'll need a transplant at some point in their life is a lot of information for a small child," mother Audrey said.

But by age six, it was time. Grace was admitted to Children's with stomach pains. A few tests later, she was placed on the transplant list.

And that's where Stephanie Dill comes in.

A child life specialist for Children's, her job in this case was to translate the idea of a transplant to a child. She did it through the use of a heart surgery doll, as well as games to familiarize Grace with the various medical equipment.

"One of the things that scared Grace was having chest tubes, and you can imagine waking up with one of those things and not knowing about it," Dill said.

Over two months in the hospital, Grace became at ease with the idea of a new heart. And, in Stephanie, she also found a new friend.

When the moment finally arrived for the transplant, Grace handled it beautifully. Today she takes thrice-daily doses of medication and goes in for regular biopsies, but for the most part she lives a normal childhood with few restrictions.

"She's like an old soul," Stephanie says with a smile.

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