Sanford Children’s Hospital Transformation Campaign



Katelyn Tennant has been a medical miracle ever since her birth in October 2002. In her 11 years of life, she has spent more time in the hospital than average adults do in an entire lifetime.

Diagnosed with truncus arteriosus at birth, having just one artery instead of two in her heart, she has endured more than 30 surgeries, including seven major surgeries and four open-heart surgeries. Later, at the age of 8, she survived a rare and near-fatal battle with plastic bronchitis, where her body was forming a lining around her bronchial system which blocked her breathing.

“During these times Katelyn was my little tough cookie,” Nicole said. “While I’m trying to strategize with these doctors to figure out what’s going on, Katelynn is playing Uno with the nurses.”

Katelyn is just one of thousands of young patients cared for at Sanford Children’s Hospital, which opened in March 2009. The Sanford Health Foundation established the Transformation Campaign for Sanford Children’s once the initial $32 million campaign goal was met for the Castle of Care™ in 2007.

To support the continued growth and development of the Children’s Hospital, generous donors are stepping forward to help meet the goal of $100 million in endowed funds. These permanent funds will support programming, services and research and will help strengthen the infrastructure by ensuring the continual addition of pediatric specialists and subspecialists so children of the region continue to have access to the most specialized care close to home for generations to come.

Sanford Children’s was a part of Katelyn’s life from the beginning. Their journey started the day she was born with three heart valves instead of four. So at 2 days old, she was flown from Pierre to Sioux Falls for her first heart echocardiogram and at 6 days old was flown out of state for her first open-heart surgery.

During the first surgery, doctors tried to separate the third valve into two, but that didn’t work as well as they hoped. Doctors called Nicole, who remained in South Dakota, to tell her Katelyn’s blood pressure and heart rate had dropped and requested she travel to see her right away. “We went into the consultation room and they told me there was nothing more they could do,” she said. “The next 12 hours were critical.”

That was the first time Katelyn showed she was a fighter. Doctors performed another surgery at 2 months old, and at three months they implanted two artificial valves.

As the years passed, Katelyn grew stronger. Her next major surgery at 8 years old replaced her pulmonary valve. But after returning home following a successful procedure, Nicole noticed Katelyn’s labored breathing and brought her to the Sanford USD Medical Center Emergency Department and was admitted to the Miller Pediatric Intensive Care Unit. Tests showed her heart and new valve were working perfectly, however, the next morning she coughed up a rubbery mass cast that had formed in her lung and looked like a white squid. She was diagnosed with plastic bronchitis.

Doctors tried an experimental treatment with a drug used to break up clots in stroke patients and had Katelyn wear a special vibrating vest to break up any casts that might be forming in her bronchial tubes. They also realized Katelyn’s slight dairy allergy was reacting with the pulmonary valve that happened to come from a cow.

“She is allergic to her valve,” Nicole said. “It has never happened before.”

Today, Katelyn’s in the best health of her life. She attends fifth grade, plays with her younger sister, Brooklyn, and enjoys archery. Every day she takes blood thinner and medication for her blood pressure and dairy allergy. She meets Pediatric Cardiologist Dr. Bill Waltz every three months and they are currently watching her aortic valve because, as Katelyn grows, her other two valves will eventually need to be replaced. Katelyn said going to Sanford Children’s Castle™ is simply a part of her life. It’s scary at times, but she likes the doctors and nurses. In fact, Dr. Waltz has motivated her to be a cardiac surgeon when she grows up so she can help other kids to be miracles, too.

“I’m a miracle because I’ve been through so much and I survived so much,” Katelyn said. “Sometimes I feel everybody looks down on me, but it inspires you to push yourself to be what you want to be.”

For more information, please call Chad Rohlfs at (605) 312-6744 or Amy Bruns at (605) 312-6742.

Posted Date: June 2014

Sanford Children’s Hospital Transformation Campaign

The Transformation Campaign for Sanford Children’s will support programming, services and research and strengthen the infrastructure through the continual addition of pediatric specialists and subspecialists so children of the region continue to have access to the most specialized care close to home.

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