Tena Bladel sat in the bleachers at Ryan High School on Friday morning with a camera draped around her neck, waiting for the moment she and her family anticipated for a long time.
Bladel watched as her daughter, junior Breana Bladel, shed the large head of her mascot uniform and approached a Mickey Mouse balloon amid a set of pink and red balloons waiting for her near the middle of the gym.
Breana’s wish was granted.
Breana, a 17-year-old born with a congenital heart defect called hypoplastic left heart syndrome, was informed in front of the students she cheers for that the Make-A-Wish foundation was going to grant her wish to head to the Disneyland Resort in Anaheim, Calif.
“It may not end up very well for us, but if she can have just a little piece of happiness before she goes down this path, it just warms our heart,” said Breana’s father, Dave Bladel.
For the Bladels, the trip to Disneyland was one wish crossed off Breana’s list. Breana was placed on the heart transplant list during the first week of January, and she awaits a donor to replace a heart that’s failing to sustain her.
Breana is currently in heart failure, because the left side of her heart has not functioned properly since she was born. She also suffers from protein-losing enteropathy, which has also affected her liver function, as well as other organs.
Dave and Tena Bladel and one of their two daughters were among a small contingent surrounded by Ryan students on Friday morning as they watched Breana do what she loves. For the last two years, Breana has been Ryan’s mascot and one her cheer sponsor, Christie Weir, says is one of the best mascots in school history.
Breana’s outfit features denim jeans, burly arms, a blue hat and a curly red mustache on a face bearing a stern look. When the new version of the mascot was unveiled this season, Breana was worried the Raider might be too menacing and scare kids who previously hugged and embraced the mascot.
Breana said the only thing bothersome about the outfit is that it tends to get a little hot sometimes.
She doesn’t complain of the stomach cramps, chest cramps or the shortness of breath caused by her ailment, her mother said. During football games, Breana will go next to the bleachers where no one can see and eat a sandwich, or grab a quick drink for a brief boost during the game.
And then she’ll go back and support the Raiders like nothing was wrong. She was only sent home from two football games this season.
Dennis Baird, one of her Make-a-Wish sponsors, was amazed at Breana’s courage and strength when he first met her.
“We met her to get information from her at her house, and she was so full of life,” Baird said. “And when I found out she does the mascot thing, even with everything that’s going on, I was just blown away.”
Congenital heart defects are the most common type of birth defect in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The defects affect nearly 1 percent of babies born each year, according to the most recent studies.
Six days after Breana was born, she underwent the first of three open-heart surgeries to reconstruct her heart and improve its ability to pump blood to the lungs and the rest of the body.
But things became increasingly difficult when Breana was diagnosed with PLE five years ago.
“If you read the research on it, it’s a death sentence for the kiddos,” Tena Bladel said. “There’s no cure, and it basically wipes their bodies out. It’s just how long that takes.”
Tena Bladel said her daughter goes through about 12 hours of treatment a week. Dr. Beth Brickner, an adult cardiologist at UT Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas, said the only long-term cure for the rare condition is a heart transplant.
“The oldest study looking at the survival rate after someone is diagnosed with protein-losing enteropathy, they report a survival rate of 50 percent in five years,” Brickner said. “Things are different now. Maybe we’re better. Maybe, but it’s not clear.”
The family inquired about getting Breana a new heart from an organ donor, and at first, Breana was against it because she didn’t want to take a heart from somebody else.
Breana stressed the importance of being an organ donor. As of Jan. 17, there were 11,802 donors in the United States. As of Friday, there were 77,317 candidates on the active waiting list.
“It’s just a great thing for people to donate their organs and then for people to receive it,” Breana said. “It’s just so remarkable and so awesome that they would do that.”
Breana was almost put on the transplant waiting list in Houston, but when the family learned it had to be uprooted from Aubrey and live within two hours of the hospital in Houston, they decided against that and started the process over again.
Not to mention that Breana is attached to Ryan. She has excelled in her mascot duties, with the support of the school’s honor guard sponsor, Kim Voorheis, and Weir.
“We’ve always had someone in the suit, but maybe not always as visible as Brea has been,” Weir said.
She was certainly visible on Friday morning when Baird told Breana her wish was granted. Breana brought her hands over her mouth and the Bladel contingent in the bleachers quietly rejoiced and congratulated each other.
“She has so much pride in her school and where she comes from,” Tena Bladel said. “It’s part of the reason we couldn’t go down to Houston. She didn’t want to leave. She’s grown up here. This is where she belongs, is what she says. These people are her family.”
If a heart transplant ever comes, Breana said her old heart will be racing, ready for the new one to take its place.
BEN BABY can be reached at 940-566-6869 and via Twitter at @Ben_Baby.
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