PARSONS, W.Va. (WBOY) — Stella Fay Summerfield was just five days old when she went into her first heart surgery. Her parents, Ashley Lipscomb and Dustin Summerfield, learned the full extent of Stella’s condition right after she was born in January.

Stella Summerfield before her first surgery. Blue or grayish skin is a side effect of HLHS due to the circulation of blood with reduced oxygen. (Courtesy Ashley Lipscomb)

Doctors told the couple that their newborn daughter had Hypoplastic Left Heart Syndrome (HLHS), a congenital heart defect where the left side of the heart, the side responsible for moving oxygen-rich blood from the lungs throughout the body, is malformed or unable to effectively move blood.

Surgery would be needed as soon as possible if Stella was going to live the rest of her life.

“We pretty much broke down and lost it,” Lipscomb said, as she recalled what happened when they first found out.

However, Dr. Mascio had been talking with the two parents in the days leading up to Stella’s delivery. Lipscomb and Summerfield said Mascio explained exactly what would need to happen to save Stella’s life, and they had full confidence in Dr. Mascio and his staff.

“Finally, after six hours in surgery, Dr. Mascio came out, sat us down, and said that she did wonderfully, she was a rockstar. And from there she just kept doing better and better,” Lipscomb said in an interview with WBOY.

Lipscomb and Summerfield would continue to stay in the hospital for over a month after the operation while their other two daughters were looked after by Lipscomb’s parents. It was hard on the whole family at first, but daily video chats would help keep the family together while Stella was recovering.

“Keeping your faith strong is the main thing. You know, as hard as it was because you’re emotional, you’re a wreck. We had to continue to be happy for all three kids, we had to not show our weakness,” Lipscomb said.

Summerfield said that the thing that stuck out to him most was how well they were treated by the staff. Everyone from the nurses to the cleaning staff was always there if the family needed anything, and said they treated Stella like she was one of their own children.

Ashley, Stella and Dustin (left to right, courtesy Ashley Lipscomb)

Stella was rapidly improving after her first surgery. Before they knew it, Stella was being taken off medical machines and her medicine doses were getting lower and lower. The family was getting ready to go home even though babies born with HLHS stay in the hospital up until their next surgery, according to Lipscomb.

“That team of doctors and nurses was just amazing, and we can’t thank them enough. We were sitting down with Dr. Mascio and we were like, ‘we would love to give you a big bear hug right now because you saved our daughter’s life.”

Stella would continue to regularly see doctors for eight months until her second heart surgery, which she also recovered from quickly. Lipscomb and Summerfield are now home with their three daughters, and Stella will see her cardiologist every three months until her third and final surgery, which she will undergo when she is three to five years old.

Stella is still doing great, and her parents say she was very excited about Christmas and was even trying to unwrap her gifts early. She’s starting to walk, starting to talk, and isn’t showing any visible defects that are common with HLHS.

“Seeing her open up her first gift with her sisters, she’s a natural,” Lipscomb said with a laugh. “She’s trying to open up every present under the tree, she just knows what she’s doing.” 

Lipscomb said the staff at WVU Medicine Children’s Hospital was extremely important to help them through such a difficult time. Lipscomb said she still keeps in contact with her “PICU family” even after leaving the hospital.

“We wouldn’t take Stella anywhere else except to Dr. Mascio and his team. That’s the people we want to work on our daughter,” Summerfield said.