Litchfield Youth Celebrates Transplant

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It’s been one year since 11-year-old Emma Belt received a life-saving heart transplant at St. Louis Children’s Hospital, and family and friends wanted to help her celebrate such a special milestone.

On Sunday, April 19, family and friends organized a drive-by parade in her honor, due to the ongoing social distancing and shelter-in guidelines across the state of Illinois.

“We made it a year,” said her mom, Jessica Rovey of Litchfield. Belt is the daughter of Rovey and David Belt.

Rovey added that it’s been a year of ups and downs for the family, and that while Belt has faced some serious issues since the transplant, she’s also showing signs of improvement.

“Just two days after her heart transplant, she started showing signs of antibody rejection,” said Rovey. “That meant her antibodies and the donor’s antibodies were fighting against each other.”

Doctors have tried several different treatment options, including chemotherapy and radiation. She also had pheresis, where doctors take out her blood and give her new blood. Rovey said Belt is only the third patient from St. Louis Children’s Hospital to experience this type of antibody rejection, and the other two live out of the area.

“Emma’s kind of been a guinea pig this past year,” Rovey said. “Doctors honestly don’t know what her future holds.”

In addition to the antibody rejection, Belt has also developed Type 1 Diabetes, and continues to be at high-risk for developing cancer or kidney failure.

“We thought the transplant would be great, but it didn’t exactly work out in our favor,” Rovey said. “A lot of the things they told us could happen did happen to us.”

But despite all the setbacks, Rovey said that Belt continues to be a happy-go-lucky girl with a positive outlook on life. She’s no longer in school due to some anxiety about it, but her mom said she’s thriving and enjoying herself.

On the one-year anniversary of her transplant, family and friends decorated their vehicles and drove by her house for a special surprise. Her mom also had cake and cupcakes, and Belt’s mom threw cake in her face.

“That was my favorite part,” Belt said with a giggle.

Rovey said that Belt is currently undergoing a new treatment option and she hopes things will continue to get better.

“We’ve been through a lot this past year,” Rovey said. “But overall, I think we are going in the right direction. As Emma would say, ‘we’re in it to win it.’”

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