#PeytonStrong: Community rallies around teen who recently underwent open-heart surgery

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Peyton Fox, 13, is pictured here a day after her open-heart surgery to correct a defect in her right coronary artery. | Idaho State Journal

POCATELLO — Thirteen-year-old Peyton Fox has a shirt bearing the words “Warrior Not Worrier.”

It suits her.

Peyton, an eighth-grader at Franklin Middle School in Pocatello, recently underwent open-heart surgery after doctors discovered a defect in the right coronary artery of her heart.

Known as a coronary artery anomaly (CAA), it’s a serious and potentially fatal issue if it’s not diagnosed and treated in time. According to the Texas Heart Institute, CAA is the second leading cause of death in young athletes.

The diagnosis would be a lot for anyone to take in, let alone a young teen, but Peyton has faced the challenge with courage, a positive attitude — and a large army of support.

The community has rallied around Peyton and her family in recent months, offering help and hope in many ways.

The sport-loving teen was set to play on a competitive soccer team and was trying out for her school’s volleyball team when she found out about the diagnosis and was told she couldn’t play. The coaches of the teams called to check on her, and they both kept her on as a manager so that she could still be a part of things.

In addition, a girls soccer team at Highland High School gave her a soccer ball, which they had all signed, and they wore #PeytonStrong wristbands to show their support.

Local resident Peyton Fox, 13, is pictured here nine days after her open-heart surgery. The young athlete faced the challenge with courage, a positive attitude and an army of support. | Idaho State Journal

Peyton’s mother, Julie Fox, said she ended up ordering roughly 600 of the wristbands at the request of friends and family across the country who also wanted to support Peyton.

Taryn Sorrell, a math teacher and girls soccer coach at Highland High School, said she wanted to help when she found out what Peyton was going through. She mentioned it to the soccer players and they took over from there.

“It was an honor for our girls to rally around her,” Sorrell told the Idaho State Journal. “They wanted to support her and show her that they care about her.”

Sorrell praised Peyton for dealing with a scary situation with grace and courage.

“She’s a great example (of being) positive when times are tough — to keep living and doing the best you can,” she said.

Although Peyton was only recently diagnosed with CAA, it’s a problem she’s dealt with for much of her life.

She started having chest pains when she was about 6 or 7 years old, but doctors couldn’t find anything wrong with her heart at that time, her mother said. Although she’s felt more dizziness and tightness in her chest in recent years, everyone thought it was a mild case of exercise-induced asthma.

It turns out asthma was part of the problem, but there was also a much more serious issue.

Someone anonymously put up a large #PeytonStrong sign in Peyton Fox’s yard this month. Many community members rallied around the young teen who underwent open-heart surgery. | Idaho State Journal

Peyton had to pull herself out of a drill during a soccer camp this summer. She felt light headed and couldn’t catch her breath.

Following that incident, she went to the Pocatello Children’s Clinic. Doctors there agreed it could be asthma, but they also urged her to go to Primary Children’s Hospital in Salt Lake City for further tests.

After taking a more in-depth look at Peyton’s seemingly healthy heart, doctors in Utah eventually discovered the defect in her coronary artery.

Although CAA temporarily derailed Peyton’s athletic pursuits, Julie said her level-headed daughter has tackled the challenge head-on, just as she would expect her to. She can recall Peyton mentioning she was sad she couldn’t play sports on only one occasion, and when the doctor talked to her about the planned open-heart surgery, she simply replied: “Let’s get this done.”

Peyton underwent surgery on Nov. 9, and is recovering quickly. She was able to leave the hospital three days after her surgery rather than the expected five to seven.

“You would not know that she had open-heart surgery,” Julie said. “She is doing remarkably well.”

Doctors believe they have fixed the problem, but she will have to go through more tests in the months ahead.

Peyton said she is feeling good and is ready to start moving on. She hopes to be able to play soccer again in the future.

In the meantime, she appreciates the support that she and her family have received.

“The community’s support has helped our family tons and they thought of everything we might need, so my whole experience was quite comfortable,” Peyton said.

Julie said fellow members of Holy Spirit Catholic Community have offered them rides and meals to help out, and friends who attend The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints brought them dinner every night for two weeks.

Many other friends and family members have made phone calls, sent gifts and cards and shown their support in other ways — even dedicating a song to Peyton on YouTube.

The day the Foxs left for Peyton’s surgery, someone anonymously decorated their car and put up a large #PeytonStrong sign in their yard.

Peyton’s school has rallied around her as well.

Julie said she’s thankful for the many people who have reached out to her daughter and their family during this challenging time.

“It’s truly been amazing,” she said. “It’s been overwhelming.”

She said she’s also grateful for the doctors who took their concerns seriously and found the problem in time to help Peyton.

“We’re grateful it was caught,” she said.

This article was originally published in the Idaho State Journal. It is used here with permission.