August 2020 will mark five years since 11-year-old Gabrielle “Gabby” Bolden of Birmingham received her new heart at Children’s of Alabama. Since that time, her life has been full throttle, juggling her love of basketball, tumbling, soccer and track and field with her schoolwork.
“And I want to try volleyball, too!” she exclaims. Gabby doesn’t take for granted the ability to shoot hoops or flip through the air or run as fast as she can. Every day, she chooses to live life to the fullest, Gabby’s mother, Gail Dennis, said.
“She wants to go skydiving. I told her that’s completely out of the question, but she’s not afraid to try anything,” said Gail, laughing. “I look at her and realize I have no reason to give up. She is a miracle child.”
A few months after Gabby was born in April 2008, she was diagnosed with pediatric myocarditis, an inflammation of the heart muscle. Her condition was successfully managed by medication and periodic hospitalizations until April 2015, when Gabby was diagnosed with RSV, a common respiratory virus. Gabby couldn’t seem to recover from the viral infection, which prompted her doctors to admit her to the hospital. Because of her medical history, a heart catheterization was performed. The cath revealed that the right side of Gabby’s heart was severely damaged. “All her major organs were enlarged,” Gail said. “They moved us to the CVICU [Cardiovascular Intensive Care Unit] and that’s when we found out how sick she was.”
After several months in the hospital, Gabby was placed on the heart transplant list in June 2015 and began what was expected to be a long wait. With careful management of her heart condition and a pump that administered one of her many prescribed meds, Gabby started school in August 2015. Surprisingly, just a few days into the school year, Gabby learned a new heart was available for transplant.
“I’ll never forget that day. I was cooking dinner and Gabby was still in her school uniform when we got the call,” Gail said. Said Gabby, “I was scared because I didn’t know what was going to happen, but God was with me and everybody at the hospital was there to help me.”
Surgery and recovery went smoothly and Gabby was home two weeks after the transplant, ready to make up for lost time. Gail said she, Gabby and her family received a lot of emotional support that helped them through difficult days, making new friends with other families on the unit and with Gabby’s care team. “Children’s of Alabama has been such a blessing to our family,” Gail said. “Gabby’s surgery is something that should have been scary, but I was calm because the staff is so awesome.”
As for Gabby, the sky is the limit. When asked what she wants to be when she goes grows up, she answers quickly and confidently.
“A nurse practitioner,” Gabby said. “I want to help people like the people at Children’s helped me.”