MINGO JUNCTION - Eight months ago, Mary Kish had open heart surgery.
Last week, the Bishop John King Mussio Junior High School seventh-grader placed second in the discus and eighth in the shot put in the annual Buckeye Mountaineer Conference track and field meet.
"I am so grateful for the great doctors at Children's Hospital plus all the support from the new school I went to and all the kids and teachers there who have encouraged me," Mary said, adding that she encourages other children with medical conditions to persevere.
"Be brave, have faith in God and be determined to get well."
The daughter of Dawn Kish was born with aortic stenosis and underwent her first surgery at the Children's Hospital in Pittsburgh when she was 6 hours old when doctors realized something was wrong when they observed she was getting no blood pressure to her legs.
That procedure, which involved using a balloon to find her aorta valve and open it, was successful, but her aorta valve was damaged in the process.
The resulting regurgitation of blood meant that her heart became engorged on the left side. She has been on medication and has had checkups every six months since - pretty good considering she was given a 10 percent chance to survive the initial surgery.
"We tried to let her live a normal life with few restrictions, but were always worried about her," said her grandmother Karen Maguire. "People really need to thank God when their children are born normal.
"It was always stated to us that Mary would need surgery after going through puberty, so we waited. Because she had a huge growing spurt, the heart got larger. To save her heart so she wouldn't need a heart transplant, a Ross procedure was recommended."
That surgery was performed on Sept. 2, 2011, in East Liverpool.
The Ross Procedure involves replacing a diseased aortic valve with the individual's own pulmonary valve. A donor's pulmonary autograft is used to replace the patient's.
Mary Kish was in surgery for six hours and it is believed the procedure should last 20 years, to be followed by another procedure.
"It was very stressful for all of us, especially Mary," said Maguire, who added that the family was grateful to the donor who provided the heart valve tissue to make the operation a success. "So many people prayed for her and she was put on many prayer lists. The day of the surgery was very emotional for us."
Kish, who started seventh-grade after eight weeks of recovery, expressed an interest in sports.
"It was wonderful how the school has worked with her," Maguire said. "Her chest is only wired together. The fear is someone could hit her in the chest and cause more problems. She needed more time to heal. At one of her doctor's appointments, she asked if she could run track."
After some consideration, her doctor approved if she went at her own pace.
"She was definitely not allowed to compete. She just needed to start getting her heart reconditioned," Maguire said, adding that she also took up discus and shot put. "So now Mary really felt like part of the team. Mary placed in almost all the track meets and was chosen to go to the Buckeye Mountaineer Conference.
"This was a great achievement for Mary, especially considering she had open-heart surgery just eight months ago. I'm really proud of her because I think she's come a long way. Seven months ago, she couldn't even lift her arm," Karen said, adding that her determination was inspiring.
"She really wanted to achieve something.
"Before her surgery, Mary feared she would never be able to do any sports or activities. She felt her life would be very restricted. Today, she has a different outlook.
"She's really an inspiration. A lot of people at the track meet were really inspired by her."