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A day of skating for heart transplant patient

A day of skating for heart transplant patient
Sarah Weiskind, 11, of Pikesville, center, who received a heart transplant on Dec 17, skates with her parents, siblings, aunts and a cousin at the Waterfront Partnership Ice Rink at the Inner Harbor. (Amy Davis, Baltimore Sun)

Sarah Weiskind skated tentatively at first, sticking close to the wall, gripping her father's hand tightly.

But soon she zipped through the middle of the rink at McKeldin Square at Pratt and Light streets in downtown Baltimore, her gray knit hat with the pink flower bobbing through the air.

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The rink opened an hour early Sunday for a private skating session for the 11-year-old Weiskind and her family. Weeks earlier she was confined to the children's intensive care unit at Johns Hopkins Hospital as a mechanical pump kept her heart going.

It was one of the few public outings Weiskind has embarked on since getting a life-saving heart transplant last month, on the same day the family celebrated the first day of Hanukkah.

Weiskind is still recovering from the transplant and can't be around large groups of people, because of the risk of infection. There were no crowds during the family's private outing.

"When a little girl wants to skate and is sick with a heart issue, it is not a problem to open a little earlier," said rink manager Melissa Davis.

Weiskind couldn't have been happier.

"I am having so much fun," she squealed gleefully while skating with two aunts.

Weiskind's ordeal started over the summer when she became gravely ill. Extreme fatigue consumed her and she couldn't eat. She looked gaunt and sickly, said her mother, Rachel Weiskind.

"She was a healthy kid until then," Weiskind said. "We couldn't figure out what was wrong."

Doctors tried antibiotics and other treatments, but her condition didn't improve after nearly two weeks. Finally, during a visit to Sinai Hospital, doctors said they were sending her by ambulance to Johns Hopkins for specialized care.

Hopkins doctors diagnosed Weiskind with cardiomyopathy, a rare condition that affects one in every 100,000 children in the U.S., according to the Pediatric Cardiomyopathy Registry. The disease is caused by abnormal muscle fibers in the heart that contract with each beat, according to the American Heart Association. Sometimes, the muscles are genetically weaker, but other times infections or low blood flow can cause the weakening.

Weiskind was put at the top of the transplant list, but it would be more than two months before a heart was available.

Her family, who lives in Pikesville, was devastated. Their once vibrant daughter who liked to roller blade, make crafts and ride her bike was now fighting for her life.

"It was definitely traumatic and devastating," said mom Rachel Weiskind.

"Your life turns completely upside down," said dad Ben Weiskind, who said they spent many nights in the hospital and constantly worried.

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Their daughter proved resilient, but sometimes got frustrated. She missed her friends and wasn't able to see her four siblings regularly. She hated being stuck in a hospital room.

To cheer her up, some friends got together and brought Weiskind an iPad so they could use FaceTime to communicate. Her grandparents traveled from Ohio to help out. And during the toughest moments, the family turned to their Jewish faith and prayer to help press on.

The illness lasted through the all major Jewish holidays, and the family lamented that the perfect Hanukkah gift would be a new heart for their daughter. Their prayers were answered.

Weiskind is slowly recovering. She wears a mask in public and still is not well enough to go back to school. She hopes to return in March or April. The medication she is taking makes it hard for her to hear.

But she is glad to no longer be in the hospital. Gradually, she has started to get back her old life. She looks most forward to when she can swim again. But for now, ice skating is fun, too.

At the rink, she grabbed hands with her siblings and parents forming a long line. They laughed as they made their way across the ice.

Life was good again.

twitter.com/ankwalker

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