Girl’s story touches heart of Vail
To say Kay Solomon one in a million isn’t quite right – she’s more rare than that.
Kay appears to be a normal, healthy 6-year-old. But the Florida native, in Vail for the week with her mother, Kerry McAuley, has medical complications so rare only a few doctors in the world understand them. In an effort to provide as much joy as possible to a child with an uncertain future, McAuley has pulled together a week’s trip to Vail, with the assistance of a large handful of local lodges and other businesses.
Kay is eligible to have a dream fulfilled by the national Make A Wish Foundation, but that comes with a few strings attached, the main one being recipients get one wish, ever. Since Kay has asked for wishes ranging from a visit to Chuck E. Cheese to a trip to Australia, her mom wants to wait a while before asking the national group for its help. But Kay did have one firm wish: to come to the mountains, see snow and learn to snowboard.
So McAuley, a single mother, went to work on her own. She got on the phone and pulled some local heart strings to make her daughter’s dream a reality. “I just can’t believe how generous the people in Vail have been to us, it brings tears to my eyes,” she said.
Kay and her mother live in Boca Raton, Fla., but they fly twice a year to visit a specialist at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City. With the frequent flyer miles she had rolled up from those trips, McAuley was able to take a Continental Airlines flight from Newark to Eagle County Airport. From there, the mother and daughter took a Colorado Mountain Express van to Vail.
In Vail, Kay has been treated to a 3-day ski school session courtesy of Vail Resorts. Vail Sports provided both mother and daughter with ski gear and lift tickets, and Vail lodges including the Christiania, Manor Vail, the Tivoli, the Evergreen and the Sonnenalp offered rooms to the pair.
Early in the week, McAuley and Solomon were guests of Johannes and Rosana Faessler at the Sonnenalp. Rosana operates the Sonnenalp Foundation, which primarily benefits the Shaw Cancer Center at Edwards. But, said Johannes, putting up special guests at the hotel isn’t all that unusual. “If we have the space and we can help, we will,” he said.
At the Christiania, owner Paul Johnston said he, too, helps when he can. However, he said, he usually hears from organizations, not individuals. As the Christiania had just put up a handful of disabled veterans, when McAuley called, “I was of a disposition to help,” Johnston said.
Also disposed to help was Scott Leigh at Vail Sports. “When you can help somebody for the right reasons, it feels pretty good,” he said.
The trip has been a resounding success. Despite a lack of snow in the village, Kay still found enough to throw a few snowballs. On the hill, she said, “I like to go fast.”
And going fast now is important.
Kay was born with a condition called “situs inversus,” in which her internal organs are on the opposite side of her body. At first, doctors believed Kay was born without a spleen. A later examination revealed that she does have a spleen, but on the wrong side of her body.
The reversed organ syndrome also affected Kay’s heart, resulting in a condition called “corrected transposition,” which means the upper ventricles of her heart, the chambers that pump blood, are doing the wrong jobs. The right ventricle, which is supposed to pump blood to the lungs, is instead providing blood to her entire body.
While Kay is young that isn’t much of a problem. As she grows, though, the right ventricle will become too small to provide blood to her body.
Under normal circumstances, Kay’s left ventricle, which is supposed to pump blood to the body, would be flooding her lungs with blood. However, that ventricle has a small hole and a leaky valve, so Kay’s lungs aren’t being overloaded.
Again, as Kay gets older, those other two defects will probably become problems, too.
“It’s never going to get any better than it is now,” said McAuley, who added that doctors have told her Kay might, just might, live into her 30s without some sort of life-threatening surgery. Since Kay is healthy now, McAuley doesn’t want to subject her daughter to anything that might further cut her odds for survival.
Kay doesn’t have a lot of options. Surgery to correct her reversed ventricles is “trickier than a heart transplant,” said McAuley, who agonizes over her options nearly every waking moment.
A heart transplant is a possibility, but a longshot because of Kay’s rare O-negative blood type, the length of the transplant list and the shortage of donors.
That leaves McAuley putting her faith in technology. She’s been studying the progress made in the field of artificial heart research. There’s some promise there, but nothing definite.
For now, McAuley treasures every moment with her daughter. “No parent knows how long they’ll have with their child,” she said. “God just loans children to us, we have to treasure all of them, every moment.”