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Journey of the heart: Emmalyn's story

One tiny heart joins an OSU-loving family with a University of Michigan hospital in the fight of a local girl's life. Meet Emmalyn Rowan.

TOLEDO, Ohio — Surrounded by doctors and hospital staff, Emmalyn Rowan celebrated her third birthday from inside her room at the University of Michigan Health C.S. Mott Children's Hospital in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

Her mother, Nicole Rowan, documenting her journey on Facebook, says it was a milestone.

"We weren't sure if she was going survive or not," Nicole explained, "so to have them celebrate her birthday and she made it to that third birthday was just a blessing."

Emmalyn's parents learned their daughter's heart was different during a regular checkup before she was born. They learned more when she was born at Mercy Health St. Vincent Medical Center on July 13, 2018.

Nicole saw her daughter for just a moment before nurses whisked her away to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU). Emmalyn's father, Terry, followed.

It was there that doctors told Terry his daughter would need to be moved to C.S. Mott Children's Hospital.

"He was like, 'you guys gotta go right now'," Terry remembers before he raced the ambulance to Ann Arbor. "I just sat in the waiting room until I could get in and see her."

Doctors told the Rowans that the veins to Emmalyn's heart weren't connected.

Credit: Rowan family

"Right from birth, in order to make sure blood was flowing in a way that would support her life, the surgeons needed to go in," said Dr. Kurt Schumacher, M.D., pediatric cardiologist and the medical director of the pediatric heart transplant program at C.S. Mott Children's Hospital.

Emmalyn had her first surgery at just 2 days old. She weighed only 5 pounds, 13 ounces. Her heart was only the size of a walnut.

She would spend the next two years of her life in and out of the hospital, undergoing several surgeries and procedures. Nicole was with her daughter, alone most of the time, while her husband took care of their other children, Connor, 9, and Timothy, 11. COVID-19 restrictions in the hospital also kept them apart.

Nicole and Emmalyn came home for a stint of just four days in July 2020, but Emmalyn just wasn't acting right. By October, doctors said she would need a new heart.

"She was in heart failure. So after a couple different procedures and surgeries trying to fix her heart, you know, they really did think it was fixable," Nicole said. "We found out that it wasn't."

Emmalyn waited around 300 days until Connor made a birthday wish.

Credit: Rowan family

"It was all of our wishes but that's one thing he asked for his birthday. The only thing he wanted was for Emmalyn to get her heart."

A donor family came forward a short time later. Nicole says the doctors didn't even have to speak when they walked into her room. She just knew.

The surgery was a success. Emmalyn's recovery could finally begin.

"She had a heart transplant and she was pretty sick after her heart transplant for a while," Dr. Schumacher recalled. "She recovered, and I have to say, the first time I saw Emmalyn back out in the hallway going for a walk was a really great feeling."

The Rowan family is eternally grateful for Emmalyn's second chance at life.

"I can't thank any of them more than enough, even if they're Michigan fans," joked Nicole.

And Terry echoes his support of the hospital team.

"In my book, can do no wrong. They saved my little girl. Other than that, football team, not going to happen."

Schumacher says Emmalyn is as tough as they come, but questions her family's fandom.

"I think they've made a bad choice in going that direction, but we will support them through whatever. When you are one of our patients at Mott, you are, at least for us, we're all Wolverines."

Em decked out in Buckeye gear! Check her out on WTOL channel 11 news later this week! I guess I need to say that all of...

Posted by Journey of the Heart: Emmalyn's Story on Monday, November 22, 2021

Terry said he would support Emmalyn if she chose to support the maize and blue. Judging by her adorable smile, decked out in scarlet and gray, as she shouts, "Go Bucks go," he may not have to worry.

Today is a great day to be thankful! After a great set of labs today, we have been given the all clear to schedule...

Posted by Journey of the Heart: Emmalyn's Story on Tuesday, November 23, 2021