In October 2022, Lexey and Blake welcomed their baby girl, Taytum, into the world. With a bald little head and big blue eyes, Taytum was simply perfect.
For the first few days of her life, Taytum was the picture of health. Then, at nine days old, Taytum developed a high fever. Her parents brought her to the pediatrician’s office near their home in Weirton, West Virginia.
The pediatrician sent the worried family to the Emergency Department at UPMC Children’s.
A Heart-Wrenching Diagnosis
Taytum was admitted to UPMC Children’s, and over the next few days, her condition only worsened. When her breathing became labored and her heart began to fail, Taytum was transferred to the Cardiac Intensive Care Unit (CICU) on the hospital’s fourth floor.
In the CICU, Heart Institute physicians diagnosed Taytum with viral myocarditis, which they explained may have developed from a common cold virus making its way to her heart—wreaking havoc on the newborn’s organ.
By late November, almost 2-month-old Taytum was listed for a heart transplant.
“I was in complete denial at first,” Lexey recalls. “But she just wasn’t getting any better.”
For the nine months thereafter, Taytum relied on a Berlin heart VAD to survive. An external pump with a driver that looks like a rolling computer cart, the Berlin heart VAD serves as a temporary bridge to transplantation.
Staff That Feel Like Family
In the weeks that followed, Lexey and Blake waited. As weeks turned to months, the Heart Institute became the family’s second home.
Throughout Taytum’s long hospitalization, Lexey and Blake did their best to be with Taytum while juggling life outside the hospital, including caring for Blake’s 4-year-old son, Jaxton. While Lexey made the daily drives to Pittsburgh to be with Taytum, Blake continued to work to support the family.
Despite the difficulty of this period, Lexey shares that hospital staff went above and beyond to comfort them. Child Life met with the family often, playing with Taytum to keep her engaged. An experienced music therapist provided music as a means of comfort and distraction. And the nurses did everything possible to make them comfortable. Lexey states, “The staff became our family.”
A New Heart for Taytum
On July 14, at 2 a.m., Lexey and Blake were asleep at home when the phone rang. It was UPMC Children’s Cardiologist Kirsten Rose-Felker, MD, calling to inform the family that they had a heart for Taytum!
Lexey and Blake drove to the hospital and waited while surgeons at the Heart Institute transplanted a new heart into little Taytum. “It was the longest day of my life!” Lexey exclaims.
On September 12, 2023 — almost eleven months after her initial visit to UPMC Children’s — Taytum was finally discharged home.
The Scars to Prove It
Taytum will continue to receive care at UPMC Children’s Heart Institute for many years to come, but her mom shares that with her new heart, anything is possible. “She can do the same things as other kids,” Lexey explains. “Taytum will always have her scars, but I hope they remind her that she’s tough. Her scars prove she’s not someone to mess with!”
As the family of four adjusts to life outside the hospital, Lexey remains grateful for the exceptional care Taytum received at the Heart Institute and the donors who make that care possible.
“Donors may never get to see the impact they’ve made, but Taytum’s living proof of it,” Lexey says. “I could never thank them enough.”
Taytum’s story is featured as part of the Free Care Fund Telethon. Tune in to KDKA-TV on December 14 to learn more about Taytum and her family. You don’t have to wait until December to make a difference! Become a Hero in Healing Today!