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On Thanksgiving, Sebastopol couple grateful for infant's fight to survive

  • Tara Sharp helps her daughter, Ellie, 9-months-old, learn how to walk as their dog, Lonny, looks on at their home in Sebastopol, California on Tuesday, November 20, 2012. Ellie was born with a congenital heart defect called Tetralogy of Fallot and is thriving after a number of complicated surgeries. (BETH SCHLANKER/ The Press Democrat)

From outward appearances, Elena Sharp looks like a normal, happy 9-month-old baby.

She crawls, pulls herself up on the arm of a chair to practice standing and squeals when she spots a family cat through the window.

But the eyes radiating joy from her smiling face belie the ordeal that Ellie has been through, as well as the odds she's beaten.

Giving Thanks: Ellie Sharp

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Underneath her shirt is a vertical scar on her chest, a testament to the 14 hours of surgery she underwent last summer to correct a complex, congenital heart defect known as tetralogy of Fallot.

"Unfortunately, our daughter had one of the more severe versions," said her mother, Tara Sharp, 35, of Sebastopol.

In layman's terms, Ellie "was missing one valve, had a hole in her heart and did not have a pulmonary artery connecting the heart and lungs," Sharp said.

Ellie spent weeks in the intensive care unit at Lucile Packard Children's Hospital at Stanford. The first time was in February after her mother, in premature labor, was helicoptered from Santa Rosa's Sutter Medical Center to give birth.

Following exploratory surgery, doctors discovered Ellie was able to breathe on her own, but she still had only a 30 percent chance of survival. She was able to go home for a few months and get to know her parents and sister, Cece, 2.

Ellie returned to the Stanford hospital in July to undergo a marathon surgery with a team headed by Dr. Frank Hanley, known as the world's top expert for her particular heart disease.

The open heart and lung operation was successful, but Ellie will face other procedures as she gets bigger, to replace the valve and pulmonary artery.


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