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From the heart

Mary Berry of Falcon compares her daughter’s congenital heart defect to a difficult college course. “It’s nothing you’d sign up for on purpose,” Berry said. “But once you’re on the path, you wouldn’t turn back.”Steve and Mary Berry’s daughter, AnnaSophia, was born Dec. 31, 2007. Nine days later, doctors rushed her to Children’s Hospital in Denver for open-heart surgery to correct misaligned arteries and a large hole in the lower chamber of her heart.An initial surgery to repair her heart stabilized AnnaSophia for four months and she grew, meeting all developmental milestones. Despite AnnaSophia’s rosy cheeks and bright eyes, her condition remains fragile.The Berrys took her to the hospital June 8 because of flu-like symptoms. Instead of a virus, doctors discovered that she was in congestive heart failure. The Berrys are now in Denver and must stay close to Children’s Hospital while they wait for a heart transplant.”The medical stuff is hard and stressful,” Berry said. “I really draw on our relationship with the Lord. This has definitely strengthened our family’s faith.”In addition to their faith, Berry said they are blessed with supportive family and friends. During the Berrys’ extended stay in Denver, many people are pitching in to help care for their two older children.Berry said their family is overwhelmed by the generosity they’ve received. During AnnaSophia’s first surgery in January, Steve Berry’s co-workers at Colorado Springs Utilities visited the Berrys in Denver and brought groceries. An anonymous co-worker paid a $540 car-repair bill and others have donated money toward medical expenses.Also supporting the Berrys are families of other critically ill children, such as Kimberly Vanderford. The Vanderfords’ 4-year-old son, Jonathan, suffers from hypoplastic left heart syndrome, a condition where the left side of the heart is underdeveloped.When Jonathan was first diagnosed, Vanderford spent time on the computer, networking with families and following stories of children who shared Jonathan’s condition. Vanderford said it became too overwhelming, and she found herself worrying about too many people.”Now, I focus on the people God puts directly in my path – like the Berrys,” Vanderford said.Vanderford met the Berrys at Children’s Hospital during AnnaSophia’s first operation. She encouraged and comforted Berry even as her own son, Jonathan, was suffering complications from his third open-heart procedure.”People think a heart transplant means the problem’s done and over with. But that’s not always the case,” Vanderford said. She and her husband chose to avoid the uncertainty of waiting for a transplant and opted for three surgical procedures to correct Jonathan’s malformation.The family currently lives in Greeley, Colo., but Vanderford said they would like to move to Peyton to join her husband, who has worked in Colorado Springs for almost a year. Vanderford said many children with heart problems thrive at high altitudes, but Jonathan’s doctors are unsure how the 2,116-foot altitude difference will affect his condition.But the time away from his father also is detrimental to Jonathan; thus, the Vanderfords are visiting Falcon for a few weeks to closely monitor Jonathan’s condition. If he remains stable during their visit, the Vanderfords will be able to reunite the family.Vanderford said she copes by living day to day. “We are so grateful we have Jonathan,” she said. “We’ve grown closer to the Lord, and the children have grown closer together and appreciate each other more.”JD Ross, whose son Garrett has undergone two heart transplant surgeries, also offers his support to the Berry family. “We might not have been exactly there, but we’ve been close,” Ross said.Garrett received his first heart transplant at 8 months old, and Ross and his wife were aware of the possibility of future complications. “A heart transplant is not a cure,” Ross said. “It is a fix that you hope will last forever.”In Garrett’s case, the heart lasted eight years before his parents became concerned that their active, rambunctious boy was experiencing serious problems.Garrett began complaining of chest pain and numbness in his left arm in February. He stopped playing, running around and cried himself to sleep. Initial tests did not reveal a cause for the pain, but a catheter surgery Feb. 28 revealed Garrett had advanced coronary artery disease and would not live unless he received a new heart.The news was devastating, Ross said, but he added that his 24 years as a police officer taught him to stay tough.The family, including Garrett’s 6-year-old sister, pulled together and relied on each other and their faith in God. Ross said they’ve also adopted Garrett’s motto: Cowboy up and bring it on.Garrett received a heart three days later and was discharged from the hospital only nine days after the operation. “Garrett just won’t quit,” Ross said. “It’s his competitive spirit.”Back home in Falcon, Garrett is playing catch with his dad and chasing the family dog. He begs to ride the horses, but Ross said they are being extremely careful for the next year to prevent injury or illness. “Garrett has no immune system right now, so even a head cold could be a major setback.”Ross said he believes nothing bad happens without some good coming from it. “If any part of our journey can help someone else – bring attention for the need of organ donation or advance medical science – then that’s the good,” he said.Medical funds have been established for both Garrett and AnnaSophia:- Family fund for Garrett Ross at Ent Credit Union- AnnaSophia Berry at Ent Credit Union

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