POTEAU — It's not the typical anniversary.
But Jaycee Elliott hasn't led a typical life in terms of health.
This month, Jaycee and husband Travis, married four years as of March, celebrated three years of Jaycee not undergoing surgery.
“We felt like that was such an accomplishment and a blessing, because in our first year and a half of marriage I had five surgeries,” said Jaycee, 28, of Poteau. “However, all the surgeries and health issues have just brought us closer to each other and we are truly enjoying our life together.”
At 3 months old, Jaycee underwent her first heart surgery at The Children's Hospital at OU Medical Center. That began a string of more than 30 surgeries and procedures. The latest of those, she says thankfully, was Nov. 10, 2010, in Cleveland, Ohio.
“The Melody valve that was placed during my last surgery in Cleveland seems to be working great and my doctors, as well as myself, are very pleased with how I am doing at this point,” she said.
Joanie Goss of Perkins took her and husband Gregg's 2½-month-old daughter Jaycee to a pediatrician for a routine checkup and shots. The doctor listened to the infant's heart and became concerned. The Goss family was instructed to go to the hospital for tests.
The pediatrician later delivered the news: “I think Jaycee only has half a heart.”
Up to that point in their life, Joanie said they were thankful for what they had, never giving much thought to what, or more specifically who, they might lose.
“My first thought was, ‘She's not going to make it. She's not going to live,'” Joanie said. “I couldn't believe it. We had our life all planned out. We had a son, a daughter, we had bought land, we were building a house and we both had jobs. Now I was in shock. I just wanted my daughter healed. That's all I wanted.”
Joanie and Gregg took her to Children's Hospital in Oklahoma City, where it was determined that rather than having half a heart, she had a complex congenital heart defect known as tetralogy of Fallot with pulmonary stenosis. This meant that she had narrow pulmonary arteries among several other abnormalities.
“I don't get the normal amount of blood to my lungs from my heart,” Jaycee said, “and my oxygen levels are lower than normal.”
Today, her 4-foot, 11-inch, 90-pound frame contains a medical hardware store complete with seven regular stents, a covered stent, a pig valve and a pacemaker-defibrillator combination. Too, she has an aortic homograft piece in the pulmonary position and a Melody valve implanted.
Doctors have also closed a hole in the lower chambers of her heart and removed her gallbladder.
Considering all of this, Jaycee and Travis offer prayers of thanks daily, not just on the fourth Thursday of November.
In addition to Jaycee, Gregg and Joanie have a son, Jake.
“Something that you realize with children that are critically ill is that every single day that you can talk to not only that child, but your wife and your son, is a gift, every single day,” Gregg said.
And Travis, said when he looks at his wife, “I don't really look at her disease or what she faces.”
“I just look at her as someone I love and I don't dwell on the medical issues involved,” Travis said. “I've always told her that we will deal with whatever comes our way, together. We have put our lives, as individuals and as husband and wife, in God's hands. We both know that He won't ever give us more than we can handle.”
It's the way Jaycee handles her health challenges that has captured so many hearts.
She feels like helping others is something she is called to do as a Christian “and one way I try to help others is through prayer.”
“Prayer is such a powerful thing and I have had so many people pray for me over the years that prayer is just one way in which I can return the favor and pay it forward,” she said. “I strive to be a great Christian role model to those I come in contact with everyday.”
Jaycee has had the opportunity to speak to youth groups at churches, as well as to a group of nursing students from the University of Oklahoma.
Despite being ill on almost a daily basis, she graduated from Perkins High School in 2004 and was a valedictorian. She went to the University of Oklahoma and earned a bachelor's degree in communications in 2008.
And in 2009, in a white dress and veil, standing in the state Capitol, she married Travis.
She learns more with each passing day about this interesting life God has given her, she said. Many say they realize they are not promised another day. But Jaycee says, “I was certainly not promised 28 years, so I feel privileged to be able to live this life.”
“Every day is different, bringing along peaks and valleys, but I think each day has a new lesson that God is trying to teach me,” she said. “The disease that I have comes with good days and bad, but at least I have that day no matter what it holds.”
I've always told her that we will deal with whatever comes our way, together. We have put our lives, as individuals and as husband and wife, in God's hands. We both know that He won't ever give us more than we can handle.”