After cancer and two heart transplants, student has dreams of being a nurse

Published 1:48 pm Monday, March 29, 2021

She’s battled cancer, had her leg amputated, suffered strokes and even received two heart transplants. Now, this Cumberland County High School senior has dreams of becoming a nurse.

Teriah Scott, 17, of Cumberland County, was just 9 years old when she came home from school one day complaining of a severe pain in her right ankle. After a trip to the emergency room, Scott and her family were told the cause of her pain might be a fracture, but there was also a chance it was something much worse.

It was Jan. 24, 2013, that doctors diagnosed Scott with osteosarcoma, a type of bone cancer, in her leg.

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At the time, she was too young to understand her condition, but she saw her family’s emotional reaction to the news.

After months of chemotherapy at VCU Medical Center in Richmond, the young girl and her loved ones were forced to make an unimaginably difficult decision. In order to remove all of the cancer and prevent it from returning, doctors would need to amputate Scott’s right leg.

She had few alternatives. The only other option would require many extensive back surgeries and would leave her with one leg shorter than the other, and the likelihood of the cancer returning was much greater.

“At that point, I just didn’t know what to do,” she recalled, “so my mom and the rest of my family, we ended up praying about it and asked God to send us a sign for what I should actually choose.”

That sign arrived while seeking a second opinion at a hospital in Philadelphia.

“We met this lady who came out of the elevator,” Scott said. “She was on crutches, and when she came around towards us, we saw that she was also missing her right leg. My mom called her over, and she just asked about how she lost her leg, and it turns out she had the exact same kind of cancer I had, and it was in the exact same leg as well.”

The woman Scott met said she had found much success in her surgery and was glad she had made the decision to amputate.

Scott knew the decision she had to make. On April 30, 2013, doctors amputated her leg.

The amputation and some follow up chemo left Scott cancer free, but it wouldn’t be the end of her battle for her health. The chemotherapy for her cancer damaged and weakened her heart, and in December, just after turning 10, she underwent her first heart transplant.

It took 36 hours for a new heart to become available, and the surgery took 13 hours. After the procedure, she was supposed to be asleep for approximately two weeks.

“I woke up the same day … asking for chicken nuggets,” she laughed.

After the transplant, Scott stayed healthy for several years and learned to ambulate using a prosthetic leg.

It was in 2019, when she was 16, that her health again took another turn for the worse.

Scott was in her last two weeks at summer camp when she began feeling sick. She was so weak that she could not walk up the stairs, and in her last week at camp she could not get out of bed without help.

After returning home, her illness prompted a trip to the hospital where doctors determined she had contracted a rhinovirus, which caused her to develop pneumonia. The condition damaged her heart, and she was once again in need of a replacement.

Scott’s second heart transplant was an arduous process, although she remembers very little of the time period. Under an extreme amount of stress, the teen suffered heavily from anxiety and even had two strokes.

Within 72 hours, a new heart was found. The second transplant, like the first, lasted 13 hours, but Scott did not bounce back as quickly as the last time. She stayed in her hospital bed for close to two months. When she was able to finally get up, she had to learn how to walk and talk again. Her entire hospital stay lasted three months.

Although she’s been through a lot, today Scott is living cancer free, and her new heart is doing well.

But like all of us, Scott now lives in a time period under the constant influence of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Having been immunocompromised for most of her life, being health-conscious and social distancing is nothing new to Scott.

However, it was a virus that weakened Scott’s first transplanted heart, and in a time when a highly infectious virus has left almost no corner of the world untouched, the teen wishes more people would take the coronavirus seriously and mask up for the sake of people like her.

Now a senior at Cumberland County High School, Scott loves to sing, dance and listen to music. And while virtual learning has not exactly been a breeze, she’s thankful for her teachers who have been there every step of the way.

“It has been very stressful, but I’m so grateful for all of my teachers. They really take their time and try to work with each student,” she said.

She’s also spent much of the last year applying to colleges and preparing for her next step in life.

After so many years in and out of hospitals, Scott hopes after graduation to begin her studies to become a nurse. Her inspiration comes from those who were by her side through it all when she was so young.

“After I would say about my first week with cancer and with my first or second chemo treatment, I realized that nurses, they give a lot of joy to some of the kids,” she said. “… I feel like that’s needed more in the world, and I just want to be able to give back to those kids in need.”

Heart transplants, Scott said, tend to last anywhere between five and 15 years.

Living as a cancer survivor, an amputee and a recipient of two heart transplants has taught Scott many things, but when asked about her biggest life lessons, she only needed one sentence to summarize it all.

“I would say, never take life for granted.”