Jacob Saelens is much like any other 9-year-old. But unlike most other kids, it wasn’t until recently that he really got that chance.
Since before Jacob was born, he’s had problems with his heart. Doctors discovered that his left ventricle was too small when his mother, Brandy, was 22 weeks pregnant with him. Dr. Bennett Pearce at Children’s of Alabama immediately sent Brandy to Boston for in utero surgery to stretch Jacob’s aorta so that he would survive until birth. When he was born at 37 weeks, he was diagnosed with hypoplastic left heart syndrome, a rare congenital defect in which the left ventricle isn’t properly developed. At five days old, he had the first of many surgeries to help his heart function better. But by the time he was 8 years old, it became obvious that his heart was struggling. Surgery no longer an option, the family knew that meant a heart transplant. On June 25, 2015, Jacob had a transplantation at Children’s of Alabama. “Jacob’s change after the heart transplant has been amazing,” Brandy says. “He’s totally different. He’s energetic and hyper like a typical kid.”
Now back at home in Demopolis, Jacob hasn’t returned to school yet, but he is an active little boy who runs and plays with his siblings, brother, Matthew, and sister, Annaleigh. Recently, Jacob was even able to fulfill a long-held dream and attended his very first Alabama football game. “It has been such a very long road, and there was a time when I thought there was never going to be light at the end of the tunnel,” Brandy says. “But now we have that light. We still have things to watch with Jacob, but he feels wonderful now. We can’t thank Children’s enough.”