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Mount Airy News – Local child receives awaited heart transplant

by Jessica Johnson

Staff reporter

DURHAM — Good news arrived yesterday for the Riggs family and the entire community who have rallied in support and prayer since December: a heart was found for Samantha Riggs.

Samantha, lovingly deemed a “warrior princess” by her family, is a 10-year-old girl from Cana, Va., who was airlifted in December to Duke Children’s Hospital in Durham after she was diagnosed with the rare condition myocarditus, an inflammation and weakening of the heart muscle caused by a virus.

Kathy Joyce, Samantha’s grandmother, called Nana by her grandchildren, said Samantha and her parents Tony and Randi were returning from a Duke University Children’s Hospital staff event, where they had just watched the presentation of a series of short documentaries about patients, when they learned a heart was available.

Joyce said that when they returned to Samantha’s unit, doctors and nurses were waiting for them with the good news.

“One of the doctors looked at Sam, who was wearing a t-shirt made for her by a nurse with the phrase, ‘Waiting for my new heart,’ on the front, and the doctor said to Sam, ‘You are going to have to get a new shirt’ and explained that a heart had been found for her.”

This “very exciting” moment made quite an impact on Joyce, not only because she was thankful a heart had been found for her granddaughter, but also because the significant moment happened on Kathy’s birthday.

“She received her heart on my birthday and now we will share that birthday forever; it is the birthday of her new heart,” Joyce said.

“It was great timing,” said Joyce, who had already told her daughter, Samantha’s mom, Randi, that a new heart would be the perfect birthday present.

Samantha went into surgery around 11:30 p.m. on Tuesday, and the surgery lasted about 11 hours, according to Joyce. She said the family heard from doctors around 5:30 a.m. Wednesday that the transplant was complete. At that point, the doctors were repairing holes made from the attachment of the Bertha, the Berlin Heart that kept Samantha alive.

“We are grateful beyond words for the work Bertha performed flawlessly, albeit noisily, to sustain Samantha’s Life until the donor heart was obtained,” wrote Joyce on Samantha’s online journal. Joyce said anyone who wants to follow Samantha’s recovery and journey into life with her new heart can check their Facebook page, available by searching for “Samantha’s Heart” or by visiting and reading the journal posts.

“If recovery goes well and they do expect it to go well because she has gained a lot of strength…if everything goes well she could be released within two or three weeks, but she will have to stay in the Durham area for initial follow-ups and tests. The distance would be too great for her to travel back and forth for all the appointments, so she may remain in the area for up to two months, but we are just not sure yet. The doctors want to be able to closely monitor her status,” explained Joyce.

Joyce said she and the rest of the family wanted to thank everyone for their support.

“We are so appreciative and I know people do not give in order to receive thanks but we are truly so thankful and blessed by the support — financially, emotionally, and spiritually. Everywhere we go people give us feedback and tell us they are praying or they have Samantha on their prayer lists. We have had notifications from everywhere from Michigan to Washington State — from all over the country. It is overwhelming and we are so grateful and feel so blessed. Every time there is an event held for Samantha we are amazed and grateful about how much people continue to give so Randi and Tony can afford to spend their time at the hospital with Sam, not worrying about what is going on at home.”

Multiple fundraisers were held all over the community and surrounding areas for Samantha Riggs’ family. The latest was a Samantha’s Day fundraiser Saturday in Winston-Salem at Flow Subaru. Joyce said the proceeds from the event, as well as from upcoming events, will go toward making updates at Samantha’s home in Cana, which is in need of work before Samantha returns home.

Joyce said there are several “odds and ends” that need to be carried out, including the replacement of all the carpet in the house, which can collect germs and dust that are not healthy for Samantha. The floors will be replaced with a laminate or vinyl material.

Through everything, Samantha has remained the “warrior princess” with an optimistic attitude and positive outlook on her future.

A poem written by Samantha and posted on her CaringBridge Journal perfectly exemplified her courage and optimistic outlook in the face of so many obstacles: “Samantha: Creative, smart, funny/Lover of horses, family and steak/Who is able to make a sock monkey/Who feels happy all the time/Who wonders what is at the end of the rainbow/Who fears the world will become a dirty place/Who would like to go to Hawaii/Who dreams about her future.”

Her future became even brighter Wednesday, as Samantha emerged from her heart transplant surgery, which doctors said went well. One doctor commented, “we had no surprises,” which Joyce said was good news.

“With everything that has happened, many would lose faith in mankind…especially with the shape the world is in, but the generosity and kindness from everyone has done a lot to restore our faith in our fellow humans, friends, loved ones, and neighbors. We are so thankful for everything done for our family.”

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