University City

Heart defect can’t keep down Hope of Highland Creek

According to her coach, Hope Petr’s greatest qualities as a soccer player are her quickness, dribbling ability, outstanding sportsmanship and willingness to help lift a fallen colleague from the turf, whether it’s a teammate or an opponent.

A Highland Creek resident and a member of the University City YMCA’s youth soccer program, Hope will get to play every position on the field for her 8-and-under Cats team by the end of the season. But eight years ago, her parents had reason to doubt that Hope would ever play soccer, or any other sport.

Hope, the daughter of Paul and Angela Petr, was born with hypoplastic left heart syndrome, meaning the left ventricle in her heart did not fully develop. Doctors rebuilt Hope’s heart with three extensive surgeries, which led to some physical delays that she eventually overcame.

Hope may be one of the last players on her soccer team to complete warm-up laps around the field because of her short wind, but she represents what youth sports are supposed to be about. She’s happy just to be on the team.

Hope’s life is as athletically active as that of any second-grader, including that of her twin sister, Abby, and their 11-year-old sister, Anna. Aside from soccer, Hope loves hip-hop dance and inline skating and also has participated in gymnastics.

All three of the Petr sisters are looking forward to competing for the Highland Creek Swim Club summer team next month. The entire family recently completed a 5-kilometer run at the YMCA.

“She has a twin and an older sister that she competes with,” said Paul Petr. “So having a twin was a blessing in disguise. She has to keep up. It doesn’t matter if she has a heart problem.”

Hope’s heart is missing its left ventricle. As a result, her right ventricle labors extra hard to pump blood to her entire body, which decreases her overall physical endurance.

Paul and Angela expected as much, from the 25th week of Angela’s pregnancy, when doctors informed them of Hope’s heart defect, to the time when she had her third open-heart surgery before she was 2-1/2 years old. One can easily understand why her parents named her Hope.

What the Petrs didn’t expect was the revelation at birth that Hope was born with a second birth defect.

“I remember the nurse handing her to me,” said Paul. “Angela was still on the operating table. I said to her, ‘We have a beautiful baby daughter. She’s missing a couple fingers on her left hand.”

“When she was born, you think she’s already so challenged,” said Angela. “It just seemed so unfair.”

The absence of muscles and tendons make it difficult for Hope to pinch her pointer finger and thumb together, posing another set of challenges for Hope. Among them is the inability to cup her left hand when she swims. That slows her down in the water.

But her swimming is quickly improving. Last summer, Hope couldn’t swim the full length of a 25-yard pool. Now she can swim three lengths.

Doctors have told the Petrs that she should stay as active as she can and that they should not worry about her health. When her body needs a rest, they say, it will let her know.

Hope may easily get short of breath while playing soccer, but one particular breathtaking moment has made her season. The Cats were playing an away game at the Simmons YMCA, and Hope scored the first goal of her life. Better yet, twin sister Abby assisted on the play.

“Abby was dribbling the ball, and she called my name and passed it to me,” said Hope. “I dribbled it in and kicked it in the goal. I was feeling happy. I thought it was nice of Abby to do that.”

Paul, the University City YMCA’s executive director and the coach of Hope’s team, was working that Saturday and received the news by text from Angela.

“Of course I was incredibly proud,” said Paul. “I told all my staff and anyone else that would listen, ‘Hope scored a goal! Hope scored a goal!’ ”

Paul and Angela Petr are encouraged that the prognosis for Hope’s long-term health is much rosier than it was for people with the same heart defect born 20 years earlier. There are no guarantees for long-term success, but one thing is certain:

They will always have Hope.