South Charlotte

Dream comes true for 8-year-old Lisa

Like most girls her age, 8-year old Lisa Bettendorf loves to sing and dance.

"I pretend there's an audience in my room," said Lisa, "and my brother always tells me I'm too loud."

She takes ballet classes at Open Door Studios in Plaza Midwood and enjoys leaping and twirling in her leotard and tights.

But unlike her classmates, Lisa often has to take a break to catch her breath.

"I feel something pushing and crunching in my heart," she said.

Lisa was born with a congenital heart defect, the nation's leading birth defect - more common than cerebral palsy, sickle cell disease, Down syndrome and oral/facial clefts combined. She has had three open-heart surgeries, two strokes and numerous cardiac catheterizations

Her mother, Judy Bettendorf, 42, a nurse, knew something was wrong early. "Lisa slept all day, ate very little and her breathing was rapid and shallow," she said.

Bettendorf's fears initially were dismissed, but Bettendorf, who had three other children with her husband, Pete, was insistent her youngest be examined thoroughly.

A chest x-ray revealed Lisa's heart was enlarged. It was beating 333 beats per minute, compared to 120 for a typical newborn, and Lisa was taking 80 breaths per minute compared to a healthy infant's 40.

Lisa was diagnosed with ALCAPA, a heart defect in which the left coronary artery (which carries blood to the heart muscle) is connected to the pulmonary artery instead of the aorta. She has made multiple trips from the family's University City-area home to both Chapel Hill and the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia to repair and replace her heart's mitral valves and have a feeding tube implanted - a tube she still uses on an as-needed basis for medications, nutrition and hydration.

There are many adjustments Lisa has had to make. She is home-schooled because "she picked everything up when she was in kindergarten and ended up missing the entire last semester," Bettendorf said.

Lisa cannot play contact sports, and the family has sometimes had to cancel family trips because of her health complications. One trip they have postponed twice is to Disney World; the family now plans to go in mid-October.

The trip will be sponsored by Make-a-Wish, a nonprofit that grants the wishes of children with life-threatening medical conditions. Lisa was eligible as soon as she was diagnosed as an infant. "But I held off because if I picked something for her then, it would have been my wish, not hers," said Bettendorf. At 7, Lisa approached her mother and said, "Mommy, I'm ready to make my wish. I want to go to Disney World."

What she is most looking forward to about her upcoming trip?

"The rides, and dancing with Beauty and the Beast," Lisa said.

It will not be her first time dancing with Beauty and the Beast: She got to do so as part of her Make-a-Wish "reveal" - when wish-granting volunteers let the child know his or her wish is going to be fulfilled. Steps 'N Motion Dance Studio, which sponsored her wish, arranged with Bettendorf to have Lisa attend its end-of-year performance.

"They called my name and I went up on stage and danced with Belle, and then Beast gave me a rose and hugged me," said Lisa.

The entire family, including brothers Christian, 21, David, 16, and sister Rachel, 13, will accompany Lisa and her parents on the trip. They hope to fulfill Lisa's wish to march in the parade and have ice cream for breakfast.

The highlight of the trip, however, will be the fact they are making it together.