Then, Ameigh showed up at the hospital with a problem of a different magnitude. She was born with congenital heart disease. The procedures that saved her life as an infant — threading wires up through the artery near her groin to reach her heart — destroyed the blood vessel that fed her left leg with blood. A network of spaghetti-like blood vessels grew and took over but did not deliver enough blood, making it difficult to walk even a city block without searing pain. Her left leg is about an inch shorter, and much weaker than her right.
In the young children they had previously treated, the doctors needed only a small length of extra artery to make the fix — about 1.5 inches. But they needed to grow about four times that for Ameigh, pushing the limits of what they’d done.
Ameigh watched a slide show from the doctors about the procedure. It sounded scary, but she “got her bravery on,” said her mother, Myra Ameigh. In July, the doctors implanted the tissue expander and began the process of slowly filling it with blue fluid.
The 16-year-old kept a sense of humor the whole time. When the tissue expander got bigger initially, it caused pain, and she told her friends, “Edna’s feeling really bad today.” She was amused when her surgeons’ eyes grew wide, “like kids in a candy store,” when looking at a medical scan that showed how much extra artery she was able to grow.
In late November, she went in for surgery that lasted more than 12 hours. Doctors were able to stretch about one-third of the needed length, but found other ways to bridge the rest of the gap. When Ameigh woke up, her first groggy question was, “Mom, is Edna gone?” Myra Ameigh recalled.
Now her parents and doctors are waiting to see what happens in the coming weeks and months. Even in the days after the surgery, Ameigh’s leg felt a bit different, she said. Her foot felt a little warmer.