November 2, 2011

Lakes Region: Bridgton girl fights ailments with a smile

By DON PERKINS

Five-year-old Ava LaBarge has been through a lot, but you wouldn’t know that from the smile on her face. Spinal surgery, four brain surgeries, a stroke – the Bridgton girl has suffered them all.

click image to enlarge

Ava LaBarge of Bridgton wears the backpack she must have at all times because it delivers a constant supply of medication to her heart. Ava, 5, has also had several surgeries.

Courtesy photo

“She loves to dance and loves music,” says her mother, Mitzi LaBarge. “It’s odd how happy she is considering what she’s been through.”

Among a slew of conditions, young Ava has chronic pulmonary hypertension: high blood pressure in the arteries of the lungs, which can lead to heart failure. She was diagnosed at 13 months.

“We thought she had pneumonia,” her mother recalls. “Her pediatrician ordered a chest X-ray; they discovered she had a very enlarged heart.”

Since then, the young girl has had to wear a backpack, but not the kind filled with toys or books. Ava’s pack contains a pump delivering live-saving medicine directly to her heart.

“Twenty-four hours a day for the past five years this pump, which is hooked to a tube that goes directly into her chest to her heart, delivers a heart medication,” her mother explains. “It can’t stop.She’s the only girl in Maine who has to wear this type of pack.”

November is National Pulmonary Hypertension Awareness Month. More information can be found at www.phassociation.org.

Because of the complexity and seriousness of young Ava’s condition, the family has had to make frequent trips to a children’s hospital in Boston. A benefit dinner to cover some of the family’s expenses will be held at Our Lady of Perpetual Help, a Catholic church on Route 302 in Windham, on Saturday from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m.

Ava currently goes to kindergarten in Bridgton, where an aide has to constantly stay with her should an issue with her pump arise. Ava has two brothers: Garrett, 18, and Sawyer, 9. Her father, Geoff, works as an electrician. Mom works as a substitute teacher and is a student at Southern Maine Community College, where she’s pursuing a medical assistant degree.

In November, the family is heading to Boston where Ava will get a checkup and some dental work, what for most would be a routine cleaning.

“She needs a day of pre-op, a day in the O.R., which requires anesthesia, so she has to spend the night,” her mother explains. “So for us, her cleaning will take three days.”

All in all, the family says Ava is largely stable. Thanks to the pump, she has been able to reverse some of her pulmonary symptoms. However, because of a stroke she suffered at 18 months, Ava is somewhat behind her peers, cognitively.

“We're hoping this benefit dinner will also allow us to get her a nice swing set this spring,” her mother says. “That’s her favorite thing.”

Tickets to the dinner are $7 for adults and $3 for children.

Don Perkins is a freelance writer who lives in Raymond. He can be reached at: presswriter@gmail.com

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