MAHONING VALLEY Teen can't wait to go home with new heart

CLEVELAND -- Christine Steele can't wait to get to her Hubbard home to thank everyone for their support during her wait for a heart transplant.
Christine, 15, daughter of Jack and Bridget Steele, was admitted to the Cleveland Clinic June 8. Her wait ended almost two weeks ago when doctors found a compatible heart and performed surgery.
"Everyone has been very, very supportive," Christine said from her hospital room. "I can't wait to get home and thank everyone. It's awesome what everyone has done, and I'm very, very grateful."
Joni Summers, a family friend, has been organizing fund-raising activities to help the family with high medical costs. Accounts for the Christine Steele Benefit Fund have been established at National City and Cortland banks.
Bake sales and car shows from 6 to 9 p.m. each Wednesday at C's Family Restaurant also help to raise money to offset the high medical bills. The restaurant is at Patton's IGA Plaza on West Liberty Street.
Her condition: Doctors diagnosed Christine five years ago with restricted cardiomyopathy, a stiffening of the heart walls, which causes blood to back up in the body.
Summers said a biopsy conducted last week revealed no signs of rejection. A second biopsy is planned for Friday and if it produces the same results, Christine would be released to the Ronald McDonald House, near the Cleveland Clinic.
She would stay there to learn about her medications before being released. Christine must take 40 medications each day, from anti-rejection drugs and immune suppressants to vitamins.
"I just want to come home and see all my friends and just be home," Christine said. "I miss my own bed."
Getting the news: Early in the morning of Aug. 17, a nurse came into Christine's hospital room and woke her.
"She said, 'The phone's going to ring,'" Christine said. "The phone rang at 2:30 in the morning, and it was my doctor, and she said, 'We found a heart, and it looks like a pretty good match' and that I should start getting ready."
At 7 a.m. she found out the surgery would go forward. She was wheeled to the operating room about 9 a.m. with her parents at her side, along with a friend who underwent a heart transplant a few weeks before.
She awoke that evening in the intensive care unit and was removed from a ventilator.
"By one in the morning I was calling people," Christine said.
For the first few days, she suffered from painful back spasms, and the surgery left numbness in her right arm.
Recovery: But much of the pain subsided.
"I was walking up and down the hall two or three days after the surgery," Christine said. "All of the fluid is out of my lungs. I'm doing excellent."
Christine is anxious to get back to school, which started Tuesday, but that may not be for several more months.
"The doctor said it may not be until January because of flu season, and I'm not supposed to be around a lot of people," she said.
She'll have a tutor to keep up with her studies.
Christine's enduring therapy sessions daily, walking on a treadmill and walking up and down steps.
She noticed the difference between the old and new hearts right away.
"There's no shortness of breath," said the Hubbard teen-ager. "I don't feel tired all the time. My fingers and toes feel warm -- just little things that other people take for granted."

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