CANA, Va. — Like the tin man in “Wizard of Oz,” Samantha Riggs is searching for a heart, but she has more in common with the lion from the end of the movie — full of courage and ready to face all the obstacles in her path. Samantha is bravely awaiting a heart transplant at Duke Children’s Hospital in Durham, N.C.
Up until December of last year, Samantha was a happy, healthy fourth-grader at St. Paul School in Cana. She is a straight-A student, a Girl Scout, a big sister to 2-year-old Farrah, and she has a passion for horses and other animals.
On Dec. 6 of last year, Samantha noticed she was feeling out of breath while walking up the stairs in her school. After basketball practice, she told her mother, Randi Riggs, that she was having trouble breathing. Randi, who is a nurse, noticed Samantha’s heart rate was accelerated and continued to beat quickly even at a resting state. She was taken immediately to the emergency room, where the doctor’s discovered her heart was enlarged and sent her to Brenner Children’s Hospital.
Samantha suffers from myocarditus, which caused her heart muscle to become inflamed and weakened. She was airlifted from Brenner to Duke Children’s Hospital Cardiac ICU, where she had open-heart surgery to attach a Berlin Heart pump.
A Berlin Heart is a mechanism that is outside of her body. Her pump is attached to the aorta of her heart and it does the work of the left ventricle, pumping blood in and out of her body. Samantha’s Berlin Heart had to be replaced twice due to clots forming.
Most adults would be crushed by this situation, but Samantha remains strong and full of life, which led to her new title of “warrior princess,” a title lovingly bestowed up on her by her dad, calling her a warrior after she was trying to sit up by herself after her first surgery. The next day, looking at pictures of her, the family noticed she looked like a princess, a lovely warrior princess.
Kathy Joyce, Samantha’s grandmother, also known as “Nana” to her granddaughters, said that Samantha is a true inspiration. “She has totally blown all of us away, even the nurses, doctors and the medical staff. She is a very unique and wonderful little girl, and she has just amazed us. She is very in tune to all her medical conditions and even the medicine she is taking. She is such an intelligent girl and if something changes or she receives a new medication, she wants to know all about it.”
On Monday, a possible donor heart was found for Samantha, but after further testing, the doctors decided it was not a good fit. Most would be completely devastated by this news, but Samantha, in true form as a warrior princess, remarked that there was one good thing about that day: “Someone else got a heart who needed one.”
The experience of not receiving the donor heart was disappointing, but made it more realistic for everyone that a heart could be found at any time, said Joyce. “Samantha said that she wants her heart to be a good one, so she can wait until another time.”
Samantha celebrated her 10th birthday on Dec. 26, and a party was given for her at the hospital, complete with a piñata the doctor hung with IV tubes. She was promised by her grandfather that she can go anywhere she wants when she gets out of the hospital, and she hopes to be able to take a trip to the beach. Joyce said that Samantha’s grandfather even gave her a pocket calender with a picture of horses on the cover so she can start planning for the future.
Samantha is still continuing her education while in the hospital, enrolled through Durham City Schools. A tutor comes and works one-on-one with her for an hour each day and coordinates her lessons with St. Paul School.
Samantha’s parents, Randi and Tony Riggs, are staying at the Ronald McDonald House in Durham, but spend most of their time at the hospital with their daughter.
Joyce said that the generosity, prayers, thoughts and donations of their family, friends, coworkers and even complete strangers, has been greatly appreciated. An employee of Wake Forest Medical School, Joyce was delighted when her coworkers organized a cornhole tournament to raise money for Samantha.
There are also several fundraisers under way or coming up in the future. A Longaberger Basket Bingo is planned for Feb. 8 at St. Paul School in Cana, and a motorcycle ride is in the works for April.
A special bracelet designed for Samantha, developed by Pat Schumate and her family, is available at Cana Country Store, T&M Grocery, Garson McMillan Realty and St. Paul School.
Monetary donations for Samantha are accepted at Bank of America in Mount Airy (under the name Samantha’s Heart) and PayPal donations may be sent to email@example.com.
More information about Samantha and the upcoming fundraisers can be found on the “Samantha’s Heart” Facebook page. In addition, a web page with a journal following Samantha’s progress is posted at www.caringbridge.org/visit/samanthariggs.
Reach Jessica Johnson at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 719-1933.