10-Year-Old Missouri Heart Transplant Survivor Beats the Odds – and Cancer

Congenital heart defects affect 1 in 110 babies. Audrey Pearce was one of them. 

Today, Audrey is a congenital heart disease survivor, heart transplant survivor and cancer survivor. Audrey is also 10 years old. 

 Heart disease is the leading cause of death in Missouri, taking the lives of over 14,000 Missourians each year. Each month, #NoMOHeartDisease focuses on a different heart disease survivor from Missouri to increase awareness and reduce the prevalence of heart disease in Missouri. September’s featured survivor is Audrey Pearce of Republic, Missouri.

The Pearce family has always lived an active life. Matt and Yvette were both college athletes and their first two children, Logan and Emma, followed in their parent’s footsteps.

When Logan was 12 and Emma was 8, Matt and Yvette got a big surprise: they would soon welcome another child–a daughter they would name Audrey. 

At three months old, Audrey started having difficulty eating and was extremely fussy. Doctors initially thought Audrey was suffering from acid reflux. Matt and Yvette were shocked to learn that Audrey had an enlarged heart and a rare congenital heart defect that would require immediate open-heart surgery.

In the weeks following her surgery, Audrey experienced cardiac arrest on multiple occasions, required a special machine to circulate blood throughout her body, battled infections and respiratory distress, and was placed on the heart transplant list. When Audrey was just eight months old, she received her new heart.

Thanks to her new heart, Audrey quickly began to thrive. She grew and joined her family’s sporting tradition, playing soccer, basketball and volleyball, and enrolled in school. The Pearce family felt that this experience taught them that everyone has a battle to fight. However, Audrey’s battle was far from over.

Just shy of her 8th birthday, Audrey started having severe stomach aches and trouble sleeping. Doctors soon discovered that Audrey had developed Post Transplant Lymphoproliferative Disease–a cancer that occurs in a small percentage of transplant patients. Audrey’s cancer had spread quickly throughout her tiny body due to her weakened immune system, which was caused by her anti-rejection meds. 

Doctors immediately started Audrey on chemo in order to fight her cancer, which was incredibly hard on her already frail body. On top of the side effects of the chemo, Audrey was taken off of her anti-rejection meds in order to fight her cancer aggressively. Audrey’s body soon began to reject her heart transplant. Thankfully, Audrey’s team of oncologists and cardiologists were able to work together to stop the rejection. Once again, Audrey showed her fighting spirit, and eight months after her battle with cancer began, Audrey won.

Today, Audrey is 10 years old and is doing well–playing sports and spending time with her friends. She continues to face health challenges such as transplant rejection and cancer, but approaches each day as a gift thanks to the help of her family, friends, medical team and a fighting spirit.

The Pearce family began sharing their family’s story and helping to raise awareness of the importance of research funded by the American Heart Association. Of why his family supports #NoMOHeartDisease Matt Pearce commented, “We support #NoMOHeartDisease because we have experienced a child with a very sick heart from a birth defect. Your heart impacts so many aspects of your quality of life and we need to do everything we can to prevent heart disease through education.”

In addition to supporting the #NoMOHeartDisease initiative, Matt Pearce is also a member of the board of directors of the American Heart Association, Midwest. 

  You can learn more about Audrey, as well as other Missourians affected by heart disease and stroke, at heart.org/nomoheartdisease. The American Heart Association also posts about the initiative on their Missouri Facebook, Twitter and Instagram pages. Survivors are encouraged to share their stories by using #NoMOHeartDisease on social media. Video production services for the #NoMOHeartDisease initiative were donated by Rogue Route.