Samantha Schaller, a healthy 8-year-old, came into her parents’ room one morning in mid October of 2012 saying she didn’t feel well. Over the next week, she started experiencing lethargy, fever, body aches, and trouble walking without being in pain. Her mom, Heather, who took her two times to her pediatrician and then once to the local ER, was told repeatedly that her daughter was simply experiencing a virus and that it would go away like most colds. But she knew there was something else going on, as Samantha had never looked this bad. Her dad, Seann, took her one last time to the pediatrician’s office and at that visit, it was recommended that she be taken to Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center immediately, potentially for Kawasaki disease.
After arriving at the ER, endless labs were taken, and it wasn’t until days later doctors found she needed to be admitted to the CICU for myocarditis. Myocarditis is an inflammation of the heart muscle, the myocardium, often caused by a virus; it was parvovirus in Samantha’s case.
Shortly after this, she was placed on Rotaflow, a temporary Ventricular Assist Device (VAD) that took over the function of the heart so that it could recover from being sick. Samantha was on the VAD for four days as they slowly weaned down the amount of work the device was doing for her.
During her stay, music played a crucial role in her mental and physical well-being. Heather had Fearless by Taylor Swift, Samantha’s favorite album at the time, playing constantly while she was on the VAD, “I believed that while she was asleep, her mind was still active and maybe she could hear in some way. I thought hearing Fearless on repeat would give her a sense of comfort, peace, and happiness”, she says. Heather had read that music was beneficial for cardiac patients and wanted to try this with her daughter. This music also continued into the step-down unit, “If she could hear, this might bring her joy and help in her healing”, she continues.
Shortly after being taken off the VAD, Samantha developed pancreatitis, which restricted her diet, “I remember bits and pieces, but mostly my time in the CICU post-surgery and in the stepdown unit, where every day I got stronger, but also tired of not eating the food my body was craving”, she recalls.
After around a week of recovery, it was time for her to continue her journey and try using medicines at home. It was expected that she wouldn’t be able to leave the hospital until around Christmas time. However, Samantha was able to be discharged home shortly after Halloween.
Once she was home, Samantha struggled with sleep, but again found that music alleviated stress and improved her emotional state. For approximately a year after coming home, Samantha had to listen to Swift’s newest album at the time, Red, in order to fall asleep.
Over the course of a few years, clinic visits became further and further apart. With the help of both the temporary VAD and medicines, her heart returned to a normal shape. She has no restrictions and enjoys living a heart-healthy life.
You may recognize her as our ACTION homepage cover girl, but all grown up Samantha is now a college student pursuing biology and pre-med at Miami University. She is even working for Cincinnati Children’s and ACTION as a summer intern, focusing on heart failure data entry, as well as a few other projects. She wants to become a cardiologist and be able to deliver the same level of care to patients that her doctors did for her. ACTION is lucky enough to have her working for the network this summer as an intern focusing on heart failure data entry, as wells other projects.