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Gainesville preteen fighting against all odds
Callie Truelove, 12, lives life to the fullest in face of illness
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Callie Truelove, 12, lays in the ball pit in her therapy room June 25. The ball pit is one of the items in Truelove’s therapy room that allows her to relax and calm down when she gets overwhelmed. - photo by Erin O. Smith

All Callie Truelove wanted for her 12th birthday were chickens. All her parents wanted was to celebrate another year with their youngest daughter.

On June 27, both wishes came true for the family.

Born with Williams syndrome, Callie’s prognosis was grim. Doctors told her parents, Tabitha and Keith Truelove, to spend every day with their daughter like it was their last.

“We didn’t ever think Callie would see her first birthday,” Tabitha said.

But despite various medical conditions and treatments, Callie and her parents have spent 12 years and counting together.

Callie said this year is special for two reasons: She’s almost a teenager, and her family gave her four chickens and a coop for her birthday.

To mark this milestone in Callie’s life, the Giving Foundation for Children threw her a birthday party, inviting her hundreds of Facebook followers and friends. The party guests from as far as 90 miles away celebrated with Callie at the fiesta-themed party.

“I’m amazed by all the people joining together to plan this,” Callie said at her party. “I didn’t even know what it was going to look like.”

But the road to celebration has not been easy.

Fighting against the odds

Shortly after her birth in 2003, Callie was diagnosed with Williams syndrome, which is caused by the deletion of part of the seventh chromosome. The disorder affects joints, connective tissues and parts of the heart. In many cases, the walls of the aorta are thickened, making blood flow difficult.

Callie’s parents explained no procedure or treatment could help their daughter  since she was an infant. As she grew and her body developed, more options became available.

Open heart surgery was the biggest “option” Callie has had to face. In April, she underwent the surgery to help reduce the thickened aorta, but no cure exists.

“The doctors have told her that the way her heart is, they don’t know how she’s still living,” Tabitha said. “She still faces a lot of medical stuff every day. We go to a lot of specialists.”

Open heart surgery was an enormous risk for Callie, since putting patients with Williams syndrome under anesthesia is dangerous.

“We didn’t know if she could ever have any surgery to help anything because there was always a possibility that they wouldn’t be able to get her heart rate back to normal and help her wake up,” her father said.

Choosing surgery was one of the toughest decisions the family — which includes Callie’s three older sisters — has had to make.

“They called us last year and told us that there was a 99 percent chance she would never live through surgery,” Tabitha said. “But there was also a 99 percent (chance) that she wouldn’t live longer without surgery.”

With those deadly odds, Callie’s parents consulted the top anesthesiologists at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta. Then Trueloves made a decision: Callie would have surgery.

“I was scared to death,” Callie said. “The medicine I had to take was horrible. I just had to trust God.”

Callie has survived this trial and others with grace, strength and determination thanks to her faith. Family and friends, as well as the congregation of Greater Love Baptist Church in Flowery Branch, where Keith is the pastor, have supported them.

“Callie always says that God put her here for a reason, but it took a while to fully give that struggle to Him,” Keith said. “The support we have is like one big family.”

Now, Callie’s heart is stronger. But the pre-teen is not out of danger. Doctors say her entire aorta will have to be replaced in the next few years.

And she still faces risks every day.

“She could still go into cardiac arrest at any minute,” Keith said, tearing up as he spoke about his daughter’s condition.

Callie’s medical issues range from blood pressure problems, asthma, balance issues and more.

However, the 12-year-old continues to persevere.

“My goal is to make people happy,” she said. “I’m going to do all the stuff I can do.”

Caring for others

Despite their medical condition, children with Williams syndrome are generally very friendly, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine. They talk like adults, have conversations with strangers and are outgoing.

Keith and Tabitha agree with that assessment. The couple recalled a time in particular in which Callie’s caring nature made one person’s day.

“We were in McDonalds, and Callie went up to a homeless woman and sat down with her and looked at her,” Tabitha said. “And then you hear Callie say ‘You are so beautiful’ to the woman. The look on her face was incredible.”

Callie and her mother bought a meal for the woman, and Callie continued to talk to her.

The girl’s selfless attitude was apparent at her own birthday party, in which most guests of honor bask in being the center of attention. That’s not Callie.

The birthday girl was asking for donations to help a friend instead of gifts for herself.

At a sports camp, Callie met a boy named Joe, who has anywhere from 100 to 200 seizures daily. She connected with him and his family. Therefore at her party, she accepted donations for him.

“She wanted to give back and raise money to get him a seizure-detecting device,” Tabitha said.

And while Callie aims to help others, her Facebook friends and Internet family focus on supporting her.

“The support all of the people give me on there is just incredible,” Callie said. “I want to be able to give back to them.”

Living her dreams

Ultimately though, Callie’s dreams are to continue her education and become a veterinarian, which accounts for her love of chickens, cats and dogs. In the past year, she has gotten closer to achieving them. She has made new friends, helped others and gotten some of her biggest wishes granted.

Callie attends Georgia Cyber Academy, but she learns her lessons at her own pace. However, her sharp memory and quick learning account for her success in school. The young girl with a big smile excels in subjects she is passionate about, such as singing and animals.

“She can hear a song one time and sing it all the way through,” Keith said.

Callie sometimes sings for her followers in shout-out videos online. In fact, before her party, she introduced the Internet community to her chickens and talked about her party. It is her way to stay in touch with her friends and followers through her Facebook page, her parents said.

Her story has also garnered public attention. Recently, Sunshine on a Ranney Day and Ride to Give provided donations to makeover the girl’s bedroom with a butterfly theme.

They also redesigned her therapy room, which now sports a jungle-animal theme along with a ball pit for her to relax in when she gets anxious. Bean bags and a bolster also help her with her balance.

“We wanted her to have a space where she could be herself and get away,” Tabitha said.

However, Callie’s biggest wish has always been to have a furry companion.

“She has been praying that God would somehow send her a service dog,” Keith said.

Last year, the Make-A-Wish Foundation contacted the Trueloves and told Callie they wanted to grant her a wish. She gave the organization three wishes from which to choose.

“Her first wish was for a dog, and her second wish was for a dog,” Tabitha said. “They told her that her third wish couldn’t be for a dog. So she wished for a trip to Hawaii.”

In September 2014, Callie met her service dog, Doodle Dandy, and the two have been inseparable ever since.

“He has been my rock so many times,” Callie said. “He can sense when I have anxiety or when I’m going to have a seizure.”

The large goldendoodle is part of the family and attended Callie’s party.

She also trains with him because one of her dreams is to train service animals.

And while the pre-teen plans to live and love for years to come, she knows of the rough times ahead.

“This has been a rough and good milestone,” Callie said. “I’m excited about living for years to come, but I don’t really care how long I live as long as I’m able to be with my family and Doodle.”