Meet Lauren Reynolds

Thirteen-year-old Lauren Reynolds has an extraordinary heart. In fact, she’s had three hearts, thanks to her team at Arkansas Children’s Hospital. In her young life, the Sheridan teen has undergone five open heart surgeries—including two heart transplants—and 24 cardiac catheterizations, or “heart caths.”

“Before Lauren, we never thought about the need for a heart center for children,” says Jeannie Reynolds, Lauren’s mother. “We never dreamed of it. Until you’ve been there, you don’t think about it.”

When Jeannie was pregnant with Lauren, she and her husband David never imagined their baby would have a congenital heart defect. The expectant parents were over the moon to be adding to their family. And their 9-year-old daughter Jordan was excited to be a big sister. But when Lauren was just 8 days old, the family’s world turned upside down.

Their local pediatrician was worried about Lauren and sent the family to Arkansas Children’s Hospital. By the time they got to the Emergency Department, Lauren was in cardiac shock.

Within several hours, they were meeting with the cardiology team. The Reynolds’ precious newborn was diagnosed with hypoplastic left heart syndrome (HLHS), a condition in which the left side of the heart doesn’t form correctly.

The first year of Lauren’s life was a blur. She had her first surgery at 4 weeks old. At 6 months her doctors found another defect they weren’t sure she could live with.

But Lauren was a fighter, and at 15 months, she was able to have the second of three surgeries that children with HLHS need. It took her two months at Arkansas Children’s Hospital to recover, and her doctors worried that she wouldn’t survive the next surgery. So Lauren lived with the heart she had. Because her heart was weak, she was small for her age and always had blue lips and fingernails, but she thrived…until she was 8 years old.

Lauren’s heart began to fail. She was put on the heart transplant list and after a scary five days on a heart/lung bypass machine, she received her first heart transplant.

“She had been so sick for so long once she got her strength, she did gymnastics and played soccer—all the things she wanted to try but had never been able,” says Jeannie.

Lauren celebrated the one-year anniversary of her transplant in an extraordinary way: 21 random acts of kindness to honor the day, she received her new heart October 21. She visited residents in a nursing home, paid for a stranger’s lunch, took balloons and candy to patients in the cardiovascular intensive care unit and more.

“She’s really the coolest kid and has the best heart,” says Jeannie. “She never feels sorry for herself. Even when she’s in the hospital and feels terrible and the steroids have taken a toll, she finds a way to get through it.”

Two years after Lauren’s first transplant, the doctors found extensive coronary artery disease—her body was rejecting her new heart. She was at high risk of having a massive heart attack.

For the second time in her young life, Lauren needed a heart transplant. On her 11th birthday, Lauren underwent her second heart transplant at Arkansas Children’s Hospital.

Her experience has given her a passion for spreading organ donation awareness. She’s written letters to her donors’ families and prays for them constantly. “We celebrate them every year on her anniversary, even her first donor,” says her mom. “That’s very important to her.”

Since her last transplant, Lauren’s heart has given her parents a few more scares. But they’re hopeful for a healthier tomorrow so their teen can continue to do the things she loves: traveling, listening to music and meeting her favorite bands, taking photos, and hanging out with her big sister Jordan.

“In Lauren’s life there’s been eight times they didn’t think she would survive,” says Jeannie. “Because of Lauren and her team, she was able to beat it. And I always say, ‘when medicine said ‘no,’ God said ‘yes.’’”

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