NEW PORT RICHEY — A few weeks ago, Chloe Brennan spent a week snorkeling and surfing in Hawaii.
The 8-year-old might look like the picture of perfect health, but she was there on a trip sponsored by the Make-A-Wish Foundation.
Doctors are unsure how long the valves in her heart will last.
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Chloe was born on May 18, 2000, at Cape Canaveral Hospital, near where her father was stationed with the U.S. Coast Guard. She was 9 pounds and 1 ounce, with dark brown hair and eyes to match.
Shortly after her birth, a nurse performed an EKG and a pediatrician attached a sticky note to Chloe's bed. "Heart gallop," it read.
Labor had been difficult for Andrea Brennan and her baby, ending in an emergency Caesarian section.
After Andrea and her husband, Erik, held their daughter for the first time, a teary-eyed nurse came in and told them Chloe had a very rare heart condition. She needed to be flown to one of three hospitals equipped to handle such care.
"We all just broke down," Andrea said. "You're thinking, 'Oh God, what has happened to my child?' "
"You're facing the reality of, 'Where is my daughter going? What's going to happen? And, what did we do wrong?' " Erik added.
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While Andrea recuperated at Cape Canaveral Hospital, Erik and his sister-in-law drove across the state to St. Joseph's Hospital in Tampa. There, Dr. Gary Haas drew a picture of Chloe's heart to explain her conditions, diagnosed as mitral stenosis and tricuspid stenosis.
A healthy heart has a left and right ventricle. But Chloe's left ventricle was enlarged, and her right one wasn't fully developed. She also had holes in her heart and an enlarged pulmonary valve, which causes too much blood flow to the lungs.
The cause of her conditions is unknown.
Andrea arrived at St. Joseph's a few days later. Chloe was just 6 days old when she had the first of two surgeries to repair her heart defects.
The six-hour surgery successfully repaired the holes in her heart. Doctors also divided one heart valve into two separate valves.
Two months later, Chloe underwent a second, eight-hour surgery to reconstruct her right ventricle.
Depending on the way her heart develops in the future, doctors may have to repair her left heart valve, which leaks.
"It doesn't close perfectly, so it (blood) goes backwards from the left ventricle to the left atrium," said Dr. James Huhta, Chloe's cardiologist. "It's possible we would have to repair or replace the valves."
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Chloe takes blood pressure medicine twice a day. Huhta sees her a few times a year to monitor her progress, since it could change at any moment.
Her parents — who moved to New Port Richey to be closer to family when Chloe was 2 — say she doesn't let her heart hold her back. She loves gym class, gymnastics and guitar.
"She doesn't know her limitations," said Erik, 31. "We have to keep an eye out on her."
Last month, Chloe, her brother Keegan, 2, Andrea, 30, and Erik went to Hawaii for a trip sponsored by the Make-A-Wish Foundation.
Foundation spokesman Brent Goodrich said Chloe's mom referred her for the trip through the Make-A-Wish Web site.
Goodrich said his organization schedules trips for children with "life-threatening" illnesses, despite how healthy they may look.
"That's a real misconception about Make-A-Wish — that we only service terminally ill children," he said. "We get referrals for children who have life-threatening medical conditions."
Chloe enjoyed the trip to Hawaii, describing the sights and activities as "cool."
But her father worries about the future, about the valve transplant and when his daughter might need it.
"From day one, we've tried to remain optimistic, but she's only going to live so long with the valves she has now.
"It's like a pair of sneakers. She can only go so long."
Camille C. Spencer can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 869-6229.