Liberty Vandergrift’s passion for competitive swimming hasn’t just kept her fit, it has also helped keep her alive.
Liberty, 12, is a member of the Salmon Arm Sockeyes Swim Club, but her journey to become a member has been an arduous one. Liberty lives with a critical heart defect that has required surgery to manage and will require more surgeries in her future. This is what qualified Liberty for a wish to go to the Bahamas, through the Make-A-Wish Foundation of BC & The Yukon.
Liberty’s first surgery took place when she was three months old where a repair to her heart’s mitral valve was made and several holes in the septum were filled. Six days later though, the valve repair tore open, leading to her second open heart surgery. After that, Liberty’s heart would not start on its own and, at that point, a machine kept her alive. Eventually she was able to be moved off the machines, only to suffer a stroke a week later.
Now Liberty is doing well in school and in the water. Liberty’s mom, Soula Kemitzis, says credit is due to the swim club for how well her daughter is doing.
“[The swim club members] likely don’t realize the effect they have on her, but it’s a big one, in a big way,” said Kemitzis, adding Liberty has more surgeries ahead of her.
However, before those surgeries take place, Vandergrift and her family will be taking off for the Bahamas on March 18. When Liberty got to choose her wish, her mother was certain she knew what her daughter would want.
“I absolutely knew it would be travel,” said Kemitzis.
The family previously had the chance to explore Hawaii’s Kauai and Maui islands. Unsurprisingly, Liberty loved the beaches and the water.
“I’m certain she’s part mermaid!” said Kemitzis.
Liberty herself is looking forward to spending time together with her family on white sandy beaches, and the chance to swim in the crystal clear water.