A cancer and heart transplant survivor shares her journey
Meet survivor Bridget Diveley. Born December 20, 2007 in Baltimore, Bridget Diveley was a healthy baby until 21 months old. In September 2009, Bridget was diagnosed with dilated cardiomyopathy, a condition in which the heart becomes enlarged and cannot pump efficiently. With an unknown source, it was assumed the enlarged heart was triggered by a random viral infection.
Bridget was admitted to the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit (PICU) at Johns Hopkins Children’s Center. Bridget’s doctors explained to her parents, Jennifer and Scott, that roughly a third of children with her condition recover fairly quickly, another third recover most of their heart function over time, and another third need a heart transplant. The Diveleys hoped that Bridget would recover, but her heart weakened. As a result, Jennifer and Scott took turns staying with Bridget every night at Hopkins, while the other parent remained at home with Bridget’s older siblings, Andrew and Allison.
In January of 2010, Bridget was admitted back in the PICU at Hopkins and was listed on the National Heart Transplant Waiting List. She coded and was resuscitated twice! At this point, Bridget was planning to receive a type of artificial heart called a ‘Berlin’ heart.
At the age of two, less than 24 hours before her scheduled surgery, Bridget’s parents received a phone call informing them that a heart was available. The family never learned who the donor was, but following a seven-hour surgery, her new heart starting beating right away.
Eight days later, Bridget walked out of Hopkins. Life returned to something resembling normal for the Diveley family. Bridget would remain on anti-rejection medication, which is necessary for survival for all transplant patients.
In June of 2019, Bridget woke up with stomach pain. She spent the day in bed and developed a 102 degree fever later that afternoon. It was the Saturday of Dance Week, which is a big week for dancers of the Jean Kettell Studio of Dance. Both Bridget and her older sister, Allison, have been students of dance since they were toddlers. Bridget pushed through all the rehearsals and recitals, until she could no longer.
As Bridget writhed in pain, the Diveleys went to Johns Hopkins Children’s Center ER, thinking it might be appendicitis. A scan quickly showed a 10 cm mass in her lower abdomen. Bridget was admitted and underwent a series of blood tests and scans. However, they needed a biopsy for an official diagnosis. A PET Scan showed that the disease was confined to a mass in her pelvis, which was in a rare location and not typical of lymphoma.
On June 26th, Bridget was finally diagnosed with Large B Cell Lymphoma, most likely due to the years of being on the immunosuppression medications from her heart transplant. Cancer is considered a rare side effect- affecting about 10% of transplant patients.
The Diveley’s world was turning upside down- again. Medically, enduring a heart transplant and now cancer seemed more than a young patient and her family should have to battle. And yet, Bridget battled fiercely. The Diveley family is grateful to the amazing team of oncologists at Hopkins.
Bridget immediately started on an inpatient chemotherapy regimen, forced to spend the summer of 2019 at Hopkins. Bridget was unable to start middle school on time, but scans showed improvement throughout Fall 2019. Thankfully, Bridget’s mass responded to the chemotherapy and on September 7, 2019, she had her final chemotherapy treatment.
On March 6, 2020, a third scan showed no evidence of the cancer. Coincidentally, the date was the anniversary of her ‘heart’ birthday. Bridget was cleared to resume activities, including a long-awaited trip to NY to see the Broadway production of Beetlejuice.
Unfortunately, COVID-19 ended those plans. Bridget, like most local students, participated in school virtually for the 2020-2021 school year. She returned to in-person school at Loch Raven Technical Academy of the Performing Arts in March 2021. She will begin high school in Fall 2022. She continues to rehearse for dance recitals and musicals every day after school.
Through the Make-A-Wish Foundation, Bridget and her family are planning to visit Hawaii in June 2022.
Bridget also serves on the Teen Advisory Council at Hopkins, providing guidance about her experience as a patient.
The family welcomes each day as a gift. Bridget’s outlook is extraordinary, reflecting a strength and bravery of a true warrior.