Focused on the cartoon playing on the iPad propped up on the kitchen counter, four-year-old Kate Bishop giggles and squeals as the characters jump around on screen.
The sound is turned down, but Kate doesn’t mind.
To someone who had just met the carefree South Surrey toddler, it would be hard to believe that in her short life she has endured three open-heart surgeries – with two more expected in the future – after being born with a rare defect called truncus arteriosus.
“We went into survival mode,” Kate’s mother, Alexandria, recalled of finding out about the cardiovascular anomaly. “We went numb and just dealt with the situation.”
Kate’s first open-heart surgery was scheduled when she was just six weeks old.
Instead of having a separate pulmonary artery and aorta, each with their own three-leafed valves, Kate only had one great blood vessel – or trunk – leaving the heart, which then branches into blood vessels that go to the lungs and body. Doctors created a connection between the right ventricle and the pulmonary arteries using a valved conduit.
As her heart grows, she will need to go for surgery to replace the conduit.
“It’s unbelievable, though. She’s so incredible, strong-willed and resilient,” Alexandria said, with husband David noting that after her second surgery, she only spent five days at the hospital recovering.
Kate’s resilience has not only helped her with her surgeries but with a side effect of her treatment. As a result of an infection in the days leading up to her first surgery, Kate was given an antibiotic that sometimes results in hearing loss.
Alexandria and David say they were unaware of this risk, but the South Surrey mother remembers vividly the day she knew there was something awry.
“We were living in a home with hardwood floors, and the keys fell from the counter right beside her, and there was no reaction,” she said. “She didn’t flinch, she didn’t get startled.”
In February 2010, Kate was diagnosed with mild to moderate hearing loss. As she has grown, the hearing loss has progressed.
Last week, the family appealed to the City of Surrey to place signs alerting drivers of a deaf child in the area.
The busy family, which includes Kate’s three-year-old brother Luke, has also been raising funds each summer for B.C. Children’s hospital with their Kuz of Kate event, which features a one- or five-kilometre run through Queen Elizabeth Park, followed by a carnival celebration.
At the fourth annual fundraiser in June, the family brought in more than $10,000, bringing their total contribution to nearly $40,000.
Despite the tumultuous four years, Kate shows no signs of slowing down, Alexandria said.
“Her spirit is amazing. She’s loving and affectionate and she’s always smiling and laughing,” she said.