On May 23, Lottie Zoog, a 9-year-old girl from Cinnaminson, and her mother, Vanessa Zoog, will be speaking at the American Heart Association’s annual Garden State Go Red for Women Luncheon. Lottie was asked to share her story not only because of how well she articulates it at such an early age, but because she is a congenital heart disease survivor.
Her story begins in an orphanage in China. When she was born, China still operated with a one child law, and given the circumstances, her birth-parents and placed her up for adoption since they wanted a son. Lottie spent a year in an orphanage before Vanessa was able to adopt her.
“When we first started the adoption process, they told us that it would be about a year,” said Vanessa. “After three years, we still weren’t matched with a child so me and my husband decided to switch to this program for minor and correctable special needs. They sent us a huge checklist of everything that could possibly be an issue for the child. It was as small as a birthmark and limb differences to more serious things like cardiac issues. Without even talking about it, my husband and I were like we’re fine with anything besides cardiac issues. Cardiac issues were way to scary.”
“I was in that program because I was born with a little foot,” said Lottie. “Basically the bone that grows into a foot stop growing. So I only have an ankle and a heel and nothing else. My parents thought this made me even more special so they were thrilled when they were able to come to China and come get me right before me first birthday.”
According to Lottie, while it is difficult to wear shoes, her parents always knew that she was tough. She could walk around barefoot and do most activities. After about a year of being with the Zoogs, Lottie started to develop a high fever. She went to the doctor and was diagnosed with pneumonia. Despite constantly going to the doctor, Lottie wasn’t getting any better. Eventually, the doctors decided to give her an echocardiogram. They found out she had a hole in her heart between the top two chambers.
“Basically the one thing that we didn’t want to deal with, here we are faced with it,” said Vanessa. “My husband and I immediately said. ‘well this is what we have to do.’ She had to have open heart surgery and the only thing that I was thinking about is that we didn’t wait three and a half years for this baby to be taken away from us.
“My son, who was about 8 at the time,” Vanessa continued, “said God gave us the right baby. I said ‘why,’ and he said because she came all the way from China where they couldn’t help her to right here to where there’s all these hospitals and doctors to fix her. I think we were all pretty confident that it was going to work, but it was terrifying.”
Lottie’s surgery was a success, and after receiving surgery on a Tuesday, she was back home by Thursday. According to Vanessa, “the little trooper” was asked to tell her story because it’s so critical for continuing research. Due to a track program called Girls on the Run that Lottie participates in, she was able to give her speech at a breakfast for remarkable girls which also happens to be the place the American Heart Association met her.
“I love telling our story,” said Vanessa. “I felt good when the American Heart Association approached us to tell our story. It’s something that we never wanted to deal with, but going through it was amazing with the amount of support we got from family and friends. It’s just something that makes us love her even more.”