On the day she was born, Samantha Armstrong suffered unexpected respiratory distress. Doctors found she had a rare congenital heart defect called Ebstein’s Anomaly, where her right ventricle does not not pump efficiently to her lungs. Sam was initially scheduled to have surgery shortly after her diagnosis.
Six days later, however, the family was told that Samantha’s heart had stabilized and she didn’t need surgery right away. Parents Deborah and Richard were finally able to take their first child her home.
After nine years, and countless check-ups at BC Children’s Hospital, Samantha was starting to slow down. “She couldn’t climb the stairs or run,” recalls Deborah.
In May 2008, Samantha had open-heart surgery on the defect she had been living with for so long.
“One of the things she was afraid of was the pain,” says Deborah. “The nurses made her feel much more comfortable.”
Sam’s family and community were a big support to her as well. As the family prepared to leave home in the early morning hours to travel to Children’s Hospital, they saw that the side walk was covered in chalk drawings that spelled out “Sammy We Love You”. Family friends had stayed up late to leave her this hopeful message. As the Armstrong’s arrived to the hospital lobby, more than 30 family members, from near and far, were waiting for the family to wish Sam well.
Sam’s surgery and recovery was a success, and she was eventually able to get back to her regular physical activity.
Sam’s experience took a more unexpected turn two years after the procedure, when she developed Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Counsellors gave her techniques to deal with her distress, and she eventually overcame it. “Now she wants to study medicine,” says Deborah. “She would like to pursue either cardiology or psychiatry.”
Sam now looks back positively on her experience. Deborah says that Sam is “now okay with talking about her surgery; and she wants to share her experience to help others.”
Now 17, Samantha will continue to be followed by BC Children’s Hospital until she is 18. She’s already prepared for her transition into adult care, and her mom is confident Sam is ready to take it on.