Litchfield Fourth Grader Gets New Heart In April


Just two weeks and one day after being added to the national transplant list, Jessica Rovey of Litchfield got the call that there was a heart waiting for her daughter, ten-year-old Emma Belt.

"They told us her only hope was a heart transplant," Rovey said. "And they said we might have to wait three to six months for one."

Belt was born with hypoplastic left heart syndrome, meaning the left side of her heart didn't fully develop. The daughter of David Belt and Jessica Rovey, she underwent her first heart surgery when she was only three days old. She would have another when she was six months old, and a third when she was three years old.

While her family had hoped those surgeries would solve her heart problems, Belt began having health issues last year. Her mom said she started having trouble walking, throwing up and chest pains. She also retained fluid in her belly.

"I just kept taking her back to the doctor, but they kept saying that nothing was wrong," Rovey said.

She had high praise for Belt's local doctors and the school nurse for believing her, that something was amiss with Emma's health.

"If I had just gone home, I don't know what would have happened to her," Rovey said, citing that she continued to do her own research in trying to find out what was ailing Belt.

Doctors would eventually determine that her heart was failing, and she was in need of a new heart to save her life.

Belt came home with a life vest, an IV pump, and had to carry two machines around with her at school.

"It has been a horrible nightmare," said Rovey.

But that nightmare would become a miracle the week before Easter.

On Wednesday, April 17, Rovey got the call that a heart from a child donor was waiting for Belt at St. Louis Children's Hospital, and they made it there in two hours. 

Due to inclement weather, the heart did not arrive at Children's Hospital that Wednesday, but doctors were able to perform the surgery on Friday, April 19. Rovey said doctors told her to expect a 20-hour surgery, and they ended up finishing in only eight hours, with no complications.

So far, heart-wise, there have been no additional complications from the surgery. Her mom said she has been having a few issues as one of her lungs collapsed and the other partially collapsed, requiring her to stay in ICU. 

But Rovey hopes they will make the move to a regular room soon, and if they can get her to eat enough, on the road to home quickly as well. They will have to return on May 3 to the hospital for a biopsy to make sure her body isn't rejecting the heart.

"We're just taking things day by day," Rovey said. "It definitely opens your eyes, to never take anything for granted. This is one of the hardest things we've ever had to go through."

While she's recovering, Belt would love to hear from her friends in Montgomery County. Cards will reach her at Emma Belt, c/o St. Louis Children's Hospital, Seventh Floor ICU, One Children's Place, St. Louis, MO 63110.

Rovey said throughout the entire process Emma has been so brave and strong. She wasn't scared, even when the surgery got delayed.

"She's such a trooper," Rovey said.

And although Rovey doesn't know who the donor family is, she has a special message for them, and hopes someday to meet them.

"I'm starting the process to reach out and thank them," Rovey said. "I'm hoping they can be part of Emma's life in memory of their loved one. I would do absolutely anything they wanted. They gave my daughter a second chance, and I want them to know that I'm so sorry for what they're going through."

Rovey said she's also grateful to the local community and everyone who has supported them throughout Belt's surgery.

"We couldn't have done it without everyone's support," she said.