By Brian Messenger
NORTH ANDOVER — Cassandra Dupont is no stranger to the doctor's office. Medical professionals have followed the 15-year-old closely since birth.
"From lung specialists, to liver specialists, neurology — you name it, she's got a team following her," said Robert Graham, a doctor at Children's Hospital Boston.
She's beaten seemingly impossible medical odds again and again, including most recently a life-threatening bout with swine flu in late 2009. But since that battle, Cassie's health has taken a turn for the worse. Cassie is now being evaluated for a lung and heart transplant. The surgery could save her life, but is also considered a "high-risk" procedure, according to Graham.
Because Boston hospitals cannot perform the organ transplants in one surgery, Cassie will head to The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia for further testing next month. Cassie's mother Danielle DeLisle said her family and friends are holding a fundraiser March 26 at The British Club in Lawrence to help her pay for the travel expenses to and from the hospital.
"Cassie's going to make a grand entrance," said DeLisle. "It's a big journey. But Cassie's gone through so much already that it's just a step at a time at this point."
Both DeLisle and Graham agree that swine flu set the stage for Cassie's recent struggles.
"It's what sort of put her in the position that she's in now with her lung disease," said Graham. "It's as severe as it gets, where it's impacting her heart."
Cassie was born with an enlarged spleen and liver and underwent a lifesaving organ transplant at age 7. She suffers from asthma and pulmonary hypertension — high blood pressure in her lungs — but has yet to be diagnosed with a specific disease or disorder, DeLisle said.
DeLisle said she, Cassie, and her youngest daughter Jayleane take each day as it comes.
"That's all I have control of is today," said DeLisle. "My whole life has changed in two years. And it hasn't gotten better. It's gotten harder. And I think her having a transplant is going to be the best thing for her right now. The doctors agree. We all agree."
Before falling ill with H1N1, Cassie was less than a week away from completing the sixth grade at North Andover Middle School. Because she has a compromised immune system, the virus hit her hard. After six weeks on life support at Massachusetts General Hospital, it appeared that complications from swine flu would prove too much for her weakened body.
"They saved her life at Mass General, there's no question about that," said Graham.
Cassie emerged from a coma in August 2009 and soon returned home with her mother, Jayleane, and Gizmo, their long-haired chihuahua.
She remained too weak to go back to school, but began seeing a tutor. Upon returning home, Cassie used a ventilator at night to help her breathe while sleeping. But last month, she began using the ventilator 24 hours a day.
When DeLisle was pregnant with Cassie, she was told her daughter would never walk.
Watching her beat the odds over and over has proven inspirational.
"She made me the woman I am today," said DeLisle.
A single mother and a visiting nurse by occupation, DeLisle has been unable to work in recent months as Cassie's health issues continue.
DeLisle said she is truly grateful for the support of her friends and family, but admitted things can get overwhelming from time to time.
"She's what keeps me going," said DeLisle. "Seeing her smile keeps me fighting."
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A Star Lit Night
What: Fundraising event for Cassandra Dupont
When: March 26, 7 p.m. to 12 a.m.
Where: The British Club, 80 Cambridge St., Lawrence
Cost: $20, Includes food, music and raffle tickets for Bruins, Red Sox and Patriots tickets
To Donate: Call TD Banknorth in North Andover at 978-684-6612