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Attalah Tomlinson

The Right Place at the Right Time

Something was wrong with 13-year-old Attalah Tomlinson, and her mother Gwen knew it. Lately, Attalah was tired and lethargic. Last year, she was able to practice cheerleading and basketball on the same day with no problem. But not this year.

So, Gwen made an appointment with Attalah's cardiologist, John Kugler, M.D., director of cardiology at Children's Hospital and chief of the Joint Division of Pediatric Cardiology with University of Nebraska College of Medicine and Creighton University School of Medicine. He has been Attalah's cardiologist since she was a toddler. Attalah was born with a congenital heart block and has been living with a pacemaker since the age of 3.

During the diagnostic check at Attalah's appointment, the pacemaker stopped working - right in the cardiology office.

"Out of anywhere in the world, that's where you want it to go out," says Gwen.

Attalah was quickly scheduled for surgery that same day at Children's Hospital to replace the decade-old pacemaker.

"When we found out that she needed surgery, I said that she's where she needs to be," says Gwen. Although the Tomlinsons were scared, they put their faith in God and in the surgeons, specialists and nurses at Children's Hospital.

You see, this isn't the first time the Tomlinsons have dealt with difficulty. When Gwen and her husband, James, found out Gwen was pregnant, they were both happy and apprehensive. Gwen has lupus, which can cause complications for babies, including a congenital heart block. Add to this the fact that they were expecting twins, and the Tomlinsons were understandably concerned.

The twins were born nine weeks early through emergency cesarean section. Older brother Keenan was born first at 10:18 a.m., Attalah was born a minute later. After her birth, doctors discovered Attalah's congenital heart block.

The family moved to Omaha when the twins were a year old. It was then that Dr. Kugler determined Attalah's ductus arteriosus, a blood vessel that connects the two larger arteries coming out of the heart, didn't close. He performed a procedure called a coil occlusion to close that opening. Two years later, he determined Attalah needed a pacemaker, which lasted until going out in Dr. Kugler's office.

"Usually, we can predict when a pacemaker battery becomes low," says Dr. Kugler. "But Attalah's battery was so low that when we used the computer to perform a routine check, the computer used up the remaining battery."

Even without the pacemaker, Attalah was not in a life-threatening situation, but Dr. Kugler still wanted the replacement surgery performed that same day.

"Everyone was scared, but we knew she was going to be ok," says Gwen. "She had to fight to get here, she had to fight to stay here, and we knew God wasn't going to take her away from us."

Gwen also credits the team of physicians and nurses at Children's Hospital with Attalah's success.

"At no time did we ever need them that there wasn't someone there," she said. "They have the best staff who know it's a scary time for you. They try to ease some of your pain and anguish."

Attalah is a normal active eighth grader who is busy preparing for the upcoming cheerleading tryouts. She and her brother, Keenan, are also looking forward to high school, which makes Gwen happy.

"School is No. 1," she said.