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'Embrace Your Cape:' 9-year-old inspires other pediatric patients

Posted October 20

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— Nine-year-old Paige Sullivan and her parents, Nick Sullivan and Racine McCullough, have endured years of anxiety about her health. As part of the 1 percent of children born with congenital heart defects in the United States, Paige has dealt with more stress than the average 9-year-old.

Paige was diagnosed with the disease at six months old, when she came down with pneumonia.

“When they went to do a chest X-ray, they said that her heart looked enlarged,” McCullough said.

Duke pediatric cardiologist Dr. Angelo Milazzo diagnosed Paige with Anomalous Coronary Artery, a rare heart abnormality in the arteries that supply blood to the heart muscle.

“An abnormality in these arteries can lead essentially to a heart attack,” Milazzo said.

The delicate operation had to wait until Paige was older, scheduled for last June. She is now a healthy and happy nine-year-old. But preparing for the surgery turned the family’s life upside down.

“We had to relocate up here. She had to change schools,” McCullough said. “(Paige) was having nightmares, waking up crying.”

To combat the stress, the family found a creative way to empower Paige. Her parents told her she was as brave as a superhero, deserving of a red cape. They made her a physical cape, which reads “Embrace Your Cape.”

Since the surgery, Paige’s prognosis is excellent, and she’s no longer sick. But that hasn’t stopped her from using her experience to inspire others.

“I thought every super hero needs a superhero cape,” Paige said

The family has formed an organization called The Heart of Paige, which aims to inspire bravery, boldness and positive thinking in children and “embrace their cape no matter the obstacle.”

The organization’s main initiative is to make capes for other children in the hospital. Paige is determined to make capes for every “superhero” she met on Duke’s pediatric heart unit.

“The little boy we’re sending this to, he is so excited because I was able to find this fabric with all these super heroes on it,” McCullough said.

Paige is also writing a book about her experience for other children in the hospital, assuring them not to be scared and to stay strong. She said she hopes the book will eventually be sold in hospital gift shops.

The family said they hope to have capes made for all children currently in the Duke pediatric heart unit in time for Halloween.

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