Four-year-old to hold court over annual Kentuckiana Heart Walk
By Mandy Wolf Detwiler
Photos by Tony Bennett and Courtesy Images
AT FOUR YEARS of age, many a young girl dreams of being a princess. For Remi McCrite, being chosen as a princess to represent the Kentuckiana Heart Walk means much more. It’s literally a celebration of life, a success story that proves the sassy preschooler overcame not one but three life-threatening heart issues at just four months of age.
The McCrites are originally from Kentuckiana, but patriarch Zach McCrite’s job took them to Oklahoma, where Brittany McCrite prepared to deliver the family’s first baby.
“As a newborn, she weighed nine pounds, two ounces,” Brittany says. “We thought we had a healthy, large, slept-through-the-night, wonderful newborn. As life went on, she was sleeping a lot. She was choosing sleep over eating. That threw up a red flag. Then she started to get sick when we would feed her, her bottles. In October of 2015, after multiple doctors’ appointments, I demanded that some tests be run, and it was discovered that she had three holes in her heart.”
It’s not uncommon for newborns to have small holes in their hearts, but they usually repair themselves quickly after birth. Remi’s diagnoses were more serious than originally believed, and her parents wouldn’t take “she’ll be fine” for an answer. As it turns out, baby Remi had a ventricular septal defect (VSD), the most common type that requires surgery if it doesn’t repair itself; a patent ductus arteriosus (PDA) that causes abnormal blood flow between arteries connected to the heart; and a patent foramen ovale (PFO) –– a more serious hole in the heart that didn’t close all the way. If not corrected all three defects could cause serious issues through adulthood and even death.
“After that, we were kind of in a whirlwind and were told that she would have to have open-heart surgery as a four-month-old,” Brittany says. “Remi’s VSD was so large, there was no other option but surgery.”
On Nov. 10, 2015, the family entered Oklahoma Children’s Hospital under the care of Dr. Harold Burkhart. “They said ‘Give us hours. You’ll see changes by the hour with her. And then it was days. ‘You’ll see even more progression.’ She did everything she was supposed to do in the healing process,” Brittany says. “We kind of treat November 10th as a second birthday with her, and we do cake with our family and celebrate her.”
Eventually, she healed completely, a success story and another of two parents who weren’t resigned to take no for an answer.
The family eventually moved back to Louisville, and Remi became a big sister to her two-year-old brother, Monroe. As another way to celebrate Remi’s accomplishments as a now spunky, princess-obsessed four-year-old, the family became involved with the Kentuckiana Heart Walk, this year scheduled for Sept. 21 at 8 a.m. at Waterfront Park’s Great Lawn.
“We again use that as something for our family to be able to do with Remi,” Brittany says. “We’re ‘Team Remi’ and we are part of the community teams with the Kentuckiana Heart Walk.”
Remi’s story touched walk organizers so much that they chose her as one of three representatives for the event. That means Remi’s dream of being a princess came true, with a tiara and red cape – and red Converse shoes all designed to represent what she, and others with heart issues, have endured.
“Remi was chosen as a member of our 2019 Royal Court because of her amazing story of survival,” says Mary Fowler, walk director for the American Heart Association. “She is an inspiration and we love that her family now celebrates her Heart Day and her healthy heart each year at the Heart Walk. Even at four years old, Remi’s zest for life is contagious! As a Royal Court member, she will represent pediatric heart patients and share her story with our thousands of participants at the Kentuckiana Heart Walk and surrounding events.”
Brittany hopes to bring awareness to pediatric heart issues –– but few can do it better than a blonde little girl in a cape and tiara. Remi will be a part of the opening ceremonies for the walk.
“Heart-related issues don’t only happen to adults,” Brittany says. “We check in with a cardiologist once a year, but she’s growing as she should. She’s a spunky, opinionated, loving four-year-old. As first-time parents, it was our worst nightmare.”
And for parents who suspect there’s something not quite right with a newborn? “For any parent, or mother –– they say motherly instinct –– go with your gut and demand that tests be run,” McCrite says. “Go with what you feel is wrong with your kid. This can happen to children. That’s why we submitted Remi’s story. And in a very humble, joking way, she says, ‘You know, Mommy and Daddy,’ you can call me ‘Your Majesty.’”