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Gaines granddaughter is poster child

Staff writer

Mark and Polly Giebler and their 3-year-old daughter, Elizabeth are on the front line in the battle against congenital heart defects.

Elizabeth is a poster child for the 2009 Start! Heart Walk June 13 at Cessna Stadium in Wichita, and her parents regularly speak on behalf of the American Heart Association.

“Lizzy,” as her grandmother, Mary Beth Gaines of Peabody, fondly calls her, was born with four heart defects. After several surgeries, she is healthy.

“Miracles do happen and prayers are answered,” Mary Beth said.

Doctors discovered Elizabeth’s problem when they heard a heart murmur that grew louder each day after her birth.

Her parents couldn’t detect a problem except that occasionally Lizzy’s lips and skin color would turn blue.

“The day our baby was born was the happiest day of our lives, but two days later was the most devastating day of our lives,” Polly said.

The couple took the child to Children’s Mercy Hospital in Kansas City when she was 6 months old for an echo-cardiogram.

Doctors inserted a catheter to determine the extent of the defects. The stress caused the baby to lose consciousness for a time, and the doctors determined they needed to place a shunt to help oxygenate the blood.

“It was very, very scary,” Polly said. “You watch in a state of total hopelessness. You just have to rely on the doctors and nurses.”

The family stayed in Kansas City for 10 days at a Ronald McDonald House for $10 a night.

“We were so appreciative,” Polly said. “They have what you need, or they get what you need.”

About a year ago, the child had surgery again to correct valve problems. Doctors have told the couple Lizzy should not need future surgeries, although there’s always a chance the valve may need to be replaced.

Lizzy now is doing “fantastic,” Polly said. She is a bright child but somewhat smaller than other 3 year olds.

“She’ll always be on the small side,” Polly said. “She’ll always be in the front row of the school picture.”

Last summer, the couple shared their daughter’s experience with the Wichita office of the American Heart Association.

The Gieblers now make group presentations for the heart association and Ronald McDonald House and have been involved in public service announcements on Wichita television.

Heart disease is the number one killer of adults, but more than 40,000 babies are born with heart defects in the United States each year.

“I never really thought much about heart health until my little girl was born with a heart defect,” Polly wrote on her heart association web page. “Now it’s something I think about every day, not only for my own little one but also for all parents who are dealing with all the emotional and health issues that are a part of our daily lives.”

The Gieblers live in Wichita, where Polly is an elementary school teacher and Mark works for the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Lizzy is their only child.

Last modified June 3, 2009

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