Liby Peterson came into this world on November 9, 2016, in Wichita, Kansas with a heart that would not sustain her for very long. The doctors at Kansas City Mercy Children’s Hospital told her parents, Jill and Josh, that Liby would need a heart transplant as soon as possible and that the best place to have it, given her delicate condition and her age, would be St. Louis Children’s Hospital.
St. Louis Children’s Hospital has one of the largest pediatric heart transplant programs in the nation. In fact, it performs so many heart transplants each year that it maintains the clinical qualification criteria to be an Optum Congenital Heart Disease Center of Excellence. Only 25 other centers can make that claim.
Because Liby was so young, the Petersons were told that finding a suitable heart could take time, even as much as a year.
“So we basically built a little life here at Children’s,” Jill says. “We had a room at the local Ronald McDonald House, but spent most nights in Liby’s hospital room. Josh got a job at a nearby hardware store to help financially. And we just waited it out.”
The wait ended in just 87 days. Liby received her new heart on February 28. But, long before her damaged heart was laid to rest, the Peterson family received a comforting gift. Her original heartbeat was recorded and placed inside a soft and cuddly bunny, donated by Dueling for Lincoln, an organization founded by Kelsey Mercer and her husband. Kelsey was a nurse practitioner in the Heart Center when her own newborn, Lincoln, was unable to fend off numerous serious illnesses, including heart failure and infant leukemia.
“We are so thankful for the 83 days we were able to hold his hand in this messy, beautiful world,” Kelsey writes on the DuelingforLincoln.org site. That gratitude is shared by the Petersons.
“Liby loves her bunny,” Jill says. “We are so grateful to have it, especially knowing where it came from.”
The heartbeat bunny isn’t the only keepsake the Petersons have to remember their experience at Children’s. Thanks to Eden’s Army, a foundation created in the memory of Eden, who was born with a congenital heart defect, the Heart Center offers its own Beads of Courage program. The resilience-based intervention supports and strengthens children and families coping with serious illness. Children can tell their story using colorful beads as meaningful symbols of courage that commemorate milestones along their unique treatment path.
Every child in the Heart Center receives a basket of beads they have earned since the beginning of their journey. With the help of parents, patients string their beads every week. This effort is a visual reminder of their strength and their capability to handle whatever comes their way.
“We have so many beads. And Liby has earned every one of them. We hope they strengthen her in the years ahead,” Jill says