DADE CITY — Sophie Sanders filled out Valentine’s Day cards for her first-grade classmates Wednesday afternoon.
She announced to her mother, Tanya, she was finished with the cards for the boys in her Academy at the Farm class. Now it was time to finish the cards for the girls. Her sister, Haley, 14, stepped in to help. Only her writing was in cursive.
“Mom,” Sophie, 8, said, slightly annoyed, “Haley wrote in a different way.”
In the life of siblings, a little disagreement is typical.
But for Sophie, her life has been anything but typical. She has endured three open-heart surgeries after being born with congenital heart defects.
Her heart functions at just half capacity and her left lung doesn’t work fully.
In April, the family will travel to Boston Children’s Hospital for an open-heart surgery known as the Fontan Procedure. The surgery is meant to allow the right side of the heart to pump oxygen-filled blood to the body, which is normally done by the left side of the heart.
To assist the family with travel and medical costs as well as lodging, a fundraiser will be held March 21 at VFW Post 4283, 12735 VFW Road, Dade City.
The event, from 4-8 p.m., will feature a dinner and silent auction.
Tanya Sanders and her husband, Eric, as well as Haley and other family members, will make the trip for Sophie’s surgery.
When asked about her upcoming surgery, Sophie didn’t mince words.
“I don’t like it,” she said, using her blue-tinged fingers to fumble with a small ring.
Family support, something in abundance from Day 1, has helped the Sanderses endure.
“Back when she was in the hospital for six months (when she was first born), we always had a great support system from friends to family,” Tanya Sanders said. “Without that support, there are days you need a shoulder to cry on and if they were not there, I don’t know how I would have dealt with it sometimes.”
Haley Sanders said she has been enamored with her little sister since she was born.
“It hasn’t been easy, but it’s been good,” Haley said. “She’s awesome.”
Recovery time from the surgery is expected to be 4-6 weeks, but Sophie has a habit of taking a bit longer, Tanya Sanders said.
Sophie’s heart condition contributes to a constant battle against fatigue. Even the short walk to her grandmother’s home next door can tire her small body.
There’s the possibility of stroke as well as her organs failing due to a lack of oxygen.
Sophie’s condition also makes it hard for her to focus, Tanya Sanders said.
To help with oxygen intake, Sophie must sleep with an oxygen tube at night. She also takes three medications in the evening.
Every three months she heads to All Children’s Hospital in St. Petersburg for echocardiograms, EKGs and any other exams doctors may need to perform.
Even her school has taken an active role by purchasing a Pulse oximetry machine, which monitors the oxygen saturation in a patient’s blood, and testing Sophie daily.
A successful surgery in April will saturate Sophie’s blood with close to 90 percent oxygen. Currently she gets around 60 to 70 percent.
Despite the fatigue, Sophie, who can belt snippets of Jay-Z and Justin Timberlake’s song “Holy Grail,” participates in ballet and has recently begun piano lessons.
She has taken part in theater productions of “Beauty and the Beast” and “Seussical.” This fall she will perform in “Shrek.”
“She’s a fighter,” Tanya Sanders said. “I’ve been involved in a lot of different organizations and volunteered and been in the hospital and have seen a lot of these kids and unfortunately a lot don’t make it.”