Toddler recovering after heart transplant

Veronica Vandermeulen knows more than most how much can change in a year.

In January 2014, her months-old son was losing weight rapidly and fighting for his life despite the pacemaker that kept his heart pumping.

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Now 16-month-old Logan is healthy after his July heart transplant. It was his fourth major surgery after two failed pacemakers and a Berlin heart, an artificial pumping device that kept his heart going for half a year while he waited for a new one.

"It went from him pretty much on death's door to this energetic, not even sick looking child. It's just crazy," says Veronica, recalling how her baby lost one pound in less than a week . Eventually he was diagnosed with cardiomyopathy - a deterioration of the heart muscle that can lead to heart failure.

But the mother of two can't rest easy yet. The first year post operation is the most dangerous.

"It's still bad, but not as bad as the first three to six months."

She keeps him close and takes pains to contain the threat of germs - a common cold could require hospitalization. Logan's had two colds since he returned to Prince George in September, but neither were serious.

Some family members still haven't met Logan and Veronica rarely takes him out of the house, except for the occasional shopping trip, where she religiously wipes everything down with sanitizer.

"Including the pin pads and everything that we touch," she says with a laugh. "People look at me like 'What are you doing?'"

On the stroller, she's fastened a sign: "Warning, heart warrior on board. Please do not touch the baby." Hand sanitizer is fastened to the door back door of their home.

"I'm not exactly sure what to worry about, so I think I just worry about everything," says Veronica, who is still off work and looking after Logan and three-year-old Eli full time.

But when she looks at Logan, she can tell he's better. His skin holds a healthy pink hue. Flipping through a baby picture book, Veronica points out the pale white face from a year before.

"He was always an off colour," she says. "It kind of feels like a dream now. He's doing so well. He doesn't look like a heart baby until I change him and I'm like 'Oh yeah you have scars."

Veronica lifts up his shirt to reveal four penny-sized marks on his stomach. She flips the page again, and points to a picture showing the long purple tubes that made up the Berlin heart, entering the skin.

Logan was the first baby in B.C. to be put on the artificial pumping device and they seem to take up half his tiny body.

Veronica remembers thinking, "This is not scary, this is saving his life."

That device kept him from doing anything but sitting up in his Vancouver hospital bed from February through to his surgery in July. Veronica stayed with him the whole time, sometimes only seeing her husband once a month.

"He wasn't rolling over, he wasn't crawling or anything," she says as Logan chatters his baby talk in the background. "But since we've been home, he's been progressing quite well."

Logan is still small for his age. At 20 pounds, he's six pounds lighter than his older brother Eli was at the same age. Some things, like the scars, will still separate him from the other kids. Logan will have to take two anti-rejection drugs, twice a day, for the rest of his life.

Veronica says Logan is more energetic now, but he was always mischievous and spunky. The heart didn't change that.

She says the moment his recovery started sinking in was soon after the surgery, when she held him, face-to-face, without the barrier of his tubes.

"There's a picture of us and I'm holding him facing me in my arms, and we're looking out the window."

with files from Mark Nielsen

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