Girl with rare genetic disorder welcomed back to school
Posted October 23, 2013
Hope Mills, N.C. — At the tender age of 7, Hailey Howard has already undergone three open-heart surgeries to correct problems caused from a rare chromosome disorder called DiGeorge syndrome.
The last surgery kept her out of school for more than two months.
But Hailey returned Wednesday to her classroom at Ed V. Baldwin Elementary School in Hope Mills, where everyone gave her a big welcome.
“She goes above and beyond,” said her teacher, Rachel Frye. “She’s very caring. She’s the first person to give someone a pencil if they need it.”
A welcome-back banner hung outside her classroom, with a message written in second-grade penmanship: "Dear Hailey Bug, we miss you so, so much." Teachers and staffers at the school wore T-shirts that read, “Keep Calm and Believe. Team Hailey.”
Her mom, Christina Howard, wore the shirt, too.
“It’s nice to see her as a typical 8-year-old child,” Howard said. “It’s just very nerve-wracking to be able to let go. I have a hard time letting go.”
Hailey was born on Christmas Day, and her first surgery happened when she was 3 months old, after doctors diagnosed her with DiGeorge syndrome. The rare disorder is the result of the deletion of part of the 22nd chromosome and causes heart abnormalities and autoimmune problems.
Hailey has seven heart defects, rheumatoid arthritis and tooth loss. Her third surgery was in August at Duke Children's Hospital.
“The doctors were not very optimistic that she would even make it to her first open-heart surgery,” Howard said. “She just amazed doctors from the get-go.”
During the latest surgery, doctors gave Hailey a new heart valve that should last her into adulthood.
“Obviously, she’s still tired from the surgery itself. It takes a lot out of you,” Howard said.
That’s why Hailey is doing only half-days in school.
Her health battles have helped Hailey dream big. She knows exactly what she wants to be when she grows up.
“A doctor,” she said, “because I have a bunch of doctor stuff at my house.”