Hope & Healing: The UF Health Blog

America’s Next Ninja Warrior: Katelyn’s Story

Standing at 4-feet and 8-inches-tall, Katelyn Eldred, 10, wants to become a Spartan Race Champion or American Ninja Warrior. When she’s not swinging a racket at the tennis court or balancing on the high beam at the gym, Katelyn can be found carrying logs and jumping over obstacles practicing for her next junior Spartan Race or Mini-Mudder. But early in her life, Katelyn had a few setbacks.

On Feb. 7, 2006, Carl and Tammie Eldred of Tallahassee welcomed Katelyn, their tiny bundle of joy. Shortly after her birth, physicians conducted a number of tests to evaluate an abnormality in Katelyn’s heart. After an agonizing day of waiting for results, physicians diagnosed her with Tetralogy of Fallot, a rare congenital heart condition that is a combination of four heart defects. This came as a shock to Carl and Tammie, who had a healthy pregnancy and no family history of congenital heart disease. After discussing the seriousness of the condition, the Eldred’s pediatrician referred Katelyn to pediatric cardiologists at the UF Health Congenital Heart Center in Gainesville.

Upon arrival to UF Health, the Eldred family met with Connie Nixon, R.N., a clinical coordinator at the UF Health Congenital Heart Center, and Arwa Saidi, MBBCh, M. Ed., a professor of pediatric cardiology at the University of Florida College of Medicine and the co-director for the adult congenital heart program at the UF Health Congenital Heart Center, who would perform additional tests to assess Katelyn’s condition.

In May of 2006, Carl and Tammie met with Mark Bleiweis, M.D., the center director and chief of congenital cardiothoracic surgery at the UF Health Congenital Heart Center, to discuss Katelyn’s upcoming operation and how it would affect her quality of life.

“Dr. Bleiweis is such a nice, down-to-earth guy. He was very reassuring and took time to explain the procedure and what to expect after the surgery,” Carl said.

On May 17, 2006, Katelyn was admitted for surgery to correct her heart abnormalities.

“When we came off the elevators to see Katelyn after surgery, Dr. Saidi was comforting in letting us know that everything looked great,” Tammie said. “Connie and Dr. Saidi have always been supportive and straightforward with information. They are there to hold your hand and, at the same time, make sure you have the information you need.”

For the past ten years, Katelyn and her family have been commuting between Tallahassee and Gainesville to receive follow-up care and MRI testing at the UF Health Congenital Heart Center to monitor her heart. During the summer time, Katelyn also travels to central Florida where she and fellow congenital heart patients attend Heart Week at Camp Boggy Creek, a camp that is designed for children with illnesses and medical needs.

“Katelyn is a beautiful young lady - her heart disease has never stopped her. She has a vibrant smile the lights up a room. Her parents are one of a kind. They are definitely part of the ‘CHC family’,” Nixon said.

“We’ve never had a single complaint with the care we have received at UF Health. It’s like they [the staff at UF Health] were taking care of a member of their own family,” Carl said. “They are incredible people. I’ll never forget that.”

About the Author

Alisha Katz's picture

Alisha Katz

Marketing Manager

Alisha Katz joined the UF Health Communications team in 2015 and serves as the marketing manager for UF Health Surgical Services, UF Health Shands Transplant Center, UF Health Advanced Lung...Read More