Cat Chennell’s grandmother, Lila Johnston, wept when asked how it felt to see Cat play like a normal 9-year-old girl. “Your heart just explodes into crying,” she said as she paused to gather herself. “It’s just so hard to put into words. It’s amazing.”
For all the glow that Cat, who lives in West Palm Beach, brings to everyone she touches in her life, her hopes of survival from primary pulmonary hypertension were once dim. The disease had already claimed Cat’s mother’s life in May of 2006. In March 2009, Cat, who said she wants to be a teacher and surgeon, received a heart and double-lung transplant.
“Being at Shands and waiting for those heart and lungs was really scary,” said Cat, who was hospitalized at Shands Children’s Hospital from May of 2008 until April 2009 and spent the majority of that time on the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit. “Because I don’t know what’s going on, I’m a kid. It is very, very scary. I’m just a kid and we don’t know what’s happening, and I have to get cut open. It’s so scary.”
The surgery was a success. Jay Fricker, MD, University of Florida College of Medicine pediatric cardiologist and Cat’s physician, said things look positive. He said she has normal lung function, and he is “very pleased with her course.” “She is a delightful child with this vibrant personality,” Fricker said. “It is great to see her doing well.”
Her grandmother says the difference is astounding. Before her transplant, Cat had difficulty at school just walking from class to class. She used to have to wear an oxygen mask at night and receive medication intravenously. Eventually her condition worsened to where she was forced to wear the mask constantly. But now Cat is just a normal 9-year-old girl. Normal in this case is pretty remarkable.
“I just feel like I’m all new,” she said.