BROWNSVILLE, Tenn. — In Brownsville, Claire Russell is the definition of an outgoing 6-year-old with a love for being on the stage. Her parents, Alicia and Andrew Russell, said it's a place where Claire likes to be.
"Claire is the most energetic one. She's full of life and loves, loves dance." Alicia Russell said.
Her love of dance is pretty easy to see. Claire just completed her fourth year of ballet, and she likes to show off her singing skills.
"Have faith in your dreams and some day your rainbow will come smiling through. I think that's where I want to stop," Claire said, clapping.
She has a passion for playing soccer with her sister and brother and a passion for life. Maybe it's because this energetic little girl was born fighting for her life in a Jackson, Tennessee, hospital.
"When Claire was born we thought she was a perfectly healthy little girl and never had a clue anything could have been wrong," Alicia said.
A few hours after her birth, doctors noticed something wasn't quite right with Claire.
"When she was in the nursery of the hospital, she started turning blue," Alicia said.
"Yes, it was definitely life-threatening, and immediate action had to be taken," Andrew said.
Hospital doctors presumed she had a heart defect
"It was the most frightening moment of my life, without a doubt. We were unsure of everything. We no longer had a healthy baby. So we moved into a state of fear and panic," Alicia said.
Claire's doctors immediately had her airlifted to Le Bonheur Children's Hospital in Memphis. She was diagnosed with what's called transposition of the great arteries.
"Her medical condition was not allowing oxygen into her blood, so it's why she was turning blue," Andrew said.
Even before she was 3 years old, doctors would need to perform two intricate procedures on Claire's heart, an atrial septostomy and an arterial switch. But there would be complications.
"She was losing more blood than the doctors thought she should be and they rushed in the middle of the night and decided they needed to do something else," Alicia said.
"If she hadn't had the surgery, then of course she would have died," Andrew said.
The Russells say they also turned to prayer.
"We literally had people all over the world telling us they were praying for our child, and it was so powerful," Alicia said.
Claire would be at Le Bonheur for a 13 days — 13 days of specialized care from the doctors, nurses and staff.
"But every problem that came up they took care of right away. There was never worry in their face," Alicia said.
Claire was eventually well enough to go home. She's had regular checkups with her cardiologist and a hearth catherization to check for any possible problems.
"He said Claire has nothing to worry about. She has a bright future," Alicia said.
Her care at Le Bonheur has inspired Claire's sister, Emily.
"I want to be a cardiologist when I'm older, and I want to do it because of Claire and all she's been through," Emily said.
Today Claire is playing, singing and dancing all because of the work done at Le Bonheur, the hospital with the giant stitched heart on top of its building.
"But for us that stitched heart is what saved our daughter. We are forever grateful," Andrew said.
And so is Claire...
"Thank you for saving my life," Claire said.