9-year-old heart transplant patient 'amazed' she survived

Joelle shortly after being born (Source: Family)
Joelle shortly after being born (Source: Family)
Joelle and her mother Kelly. (Source: Family)
Joelle and her mother Kelly. (Source: Family)

MEMPHIS, TN (WMC) - On a regular weekday, Joelle Miller is a busy second grader at Crosswind Elementary School.

"My favorite thing to do is math, and one of my friends said to say this: My best friend's name is Miller," Miller said.

Just over nine years ago, Joelle's mom was not sure Joelle would ever be able to live a normal life.

"The doctor walked in and said she had a critical congenital heart defect called Hypoplastic left heart syndrome, where the left side of the heart is seriously underdeveloped or not there at all," Kelly Miller said.

The initial heart surgeries performed on Joelle failed.

Doctors said there was only one option left, and time was running out.

"She was listed for a heart transplant, and in an unthinkable turn of events, she got a heart in three weeks," Kelly said.

The transplant was a success, and after years of close follow-up, Joelle is now a healthy big sister with two siblings and your typical childhood goals.

"I really want to learn how to ride my bike, because I still have training wheels on it," Joelle said.

"This is what I hoped for every day we were sitting there," Kelly said. "The long nights in the ICU and it was just me and her.

According to the American Heart Association, congenital heart defects are the leading birth defects in newborns. They affect about 40,000 babies every year.

Now, the Millers hope their story helps spread awareness and fosters more happy and healthy hearts.

"These babies can be born and thrive, and that's when I knew we were going to do whatever we had to do," Kelly said.

"I was just kind of amazed at how I made it to be here," Joelle said.

Facts on congenital heart defects from The American Heart Association-Memphis:

  • Congenital heart defects are the leading birth defect in newborns.
  • Each year, around 40,000 babies are born with some type of congenital heart defect.
  • The American Heart Association funds research related to heart health and heart disease in children, including congenital heart disease. They also fund more pediatric cardiac research than any U.S. organization outside of the federal government.
  • Last year, AHA funded nearly $13.7 million in new research awards broadly related to children’s heart disease.
  • Locally, the American Heart Association funds more than 12 grants equaling more than $2.1 million in research at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center and St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. Three of those grants are directly related to children’s heart disease.
  • For the past several years, the American Heart Association has recommended states pass legislation requiring pulse oximetry screening as a part of the newborn screening panel. This inexpensive, non-invasive test can detect possible critical congenital heart defects before the baby leaves the hospital. Currently, only five states do not have pulse oximetry legislation: Connecticut, Florida, Idaho, Vermont, and Wyoming.

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