Buffalo teen needs new heart after four surgeries, remains on donor list

A new heart is a necessity for a Buffalo, Minnesota teen who lives with a rare medical condition.

She’s had four open heart surgeries in her lifetime, but a transplant was always looming, and now she’s on the transplant list, waiting.

It’s October, so pumpkin is on the menu for Natalie LaBelle.

Natalie loves painting and arts of all kinds. She also loves animals, including her service dog Hominy.

And like a lot of teens, she loves making YouTube videos.

She also has cerebral palsy and a rare juvenile case of hypertrophic obstructive cardiomyopathy — a condition causing her heart muscle to get so thick it blocks blood flow to other parts of the body.

Every day, the high school freshman can feel the effects on her heart.

"It's getting tired and I need a new one," she said.

Natalie’s been down this road before. She’s had four open heart surgeries to replace a valve.

She mostly just remembers all the tubes.

FOX 9 was with her family after one of those surgeries in 2010 when she was almost two.

It was a last ditch, experimental replacement using a valve from a pig.

"We use tissue valves in this position so rarely that I can't even tell the family if it's going to last one, three, or five years," said Dr. Sheri Crow after the 2010 surgery.

The valve beat the doctor’s expectations, lasting ten years.

"It bought her so much time," said Natalie's mother Tabitha LaBelle. "And through those ten years, we've had some awesome adventures."

The family visited Disney World and the NFL Hall of Fame, and Natalie got to ride horses and go to school.

Her parents had time to focus on their other kids, including 20-year-old Isaiah who also uses a wheelchair.

They knew the valve would eventually fail, but fear left the spotlight.

"It's always there," said Matt LaBelle. "It's always a thought. It's always a ‘What if,’ is it now? But most of the time, yes. We try to keep that thought in the background."

Natalie needed a fourth open heart surgery in March 2020, and the newest valve is losing function now, too.

So as of this month, the Mayo Clinic got her on the transplant list.

A new heart could come any time.

"I'm very hopeful," Natalie said. "And a little nervous."

At the top of Natalie’s list for putting her new heart to use is a trip to Skyzone to jump on trampolines, which has been off limits for her.

Her mother’s vision jumps even higher.

"Getting a job at the local daycare and, like, growing up and just having a future that's not limited by a medical condition," Tabitha LaBelle said.

The wait for a new heart is typically 10 to 12 weeks, possibly lining her up to get the gift of life for Christmas.

"How much better do you think your life will be?" a FOX 9 reporter asked her. "So much better."

You can support the LaBelles in what they expect to be a 3-month visit to the Mayo Clinic by donating here.