A lover of puppies. A future veterinarian. A little girl with a smile always on her face. Nine-year-old Olivia Billings was described as many things, but mostly, she was a fighter.
After undergoing multiple heart transplants, Olivia died Saturday of an apparent heart attack.
“She was a miracle child, we called her our Energizer bunny because she just kept going and going,” said her mother Lena Billings with a small laugh. “She was such a little fighter.”
Olivia was born premature with cardiomyopathy, which left the left side of her heart muscle weakened. When she was 4, doctors told her parents she would soon need a heart transplant.
“That first heart transplant, it was hard. We waited months for a heart,” Billings said. “After the transplant she was much better, but one of her heart valves was injured.”
An open-heart surgery in 2009 replaced the valve and last March saw a second heart transplant after the first one failed.
“We were so lucky, getting two hearts,” Billings said. “And through it all Olivia was such a trooper, we had been through so much, we had all been through so much, and we thought ‘OK, this is it. We’re going to be OK now.’ ”
Olivia went to school as usual on Friday; it wasn’t until Saturday morning that she felt sick.
“She was sort of moping around, woke up with a stomach ache,” Billings said. “That afternoon she crashed; we performed CPR on her and then paramedics tried to stabilize her enough to be able to be Lifeflighted to the hospital. In the end we had to take an ambulance to Bothwell (Regional Health Center) and she passed away.”
“It is a shock for us because we just saw her, she was just in school,” said Green Ridge Elementary fourth grade teacher Kara Henslee. “We were of course concerned about the kids, but I think a lot of them knew already, their parents had told them and prepped them the night before. Green Ridge is a small community so everyone knew her and what she’d gone through.”
Henslee said her students took the news, “as well as you can, they got the crying out and then we talked about the good things — and there were a lot of good things.”
“Little things made her light up,” said Olivia’s third grade teacher, Pam Harrison. “A few days ago she made me laugh; I was walking by her during lunch and she waved something at me like she was bragging about her pudding cup or whatever it was, it made me laugh so much.”
Harrison said Olivia was always excited to come to school but noted the alternative meant she was sick in the hospital.
“She was just an amazing little girl,” Harrison said. “Anyone who got a chance to meet her, they were lucky. I don’t think I’ll ever forget her.”
Billings said she’d seen an outpouring of support for the family since Olivia went through her first transplant and expected this time to be no different.
“We’ve been so supported by the Green Ridge and Sedalia communities, everyone has always been thoughtful and caring,” she said. “I know they’ve decided to end school early on Friday and hold the funeral in the gym. It just amazes me how many people know Olivia or knew of her.”
Henslee said students would release special balloons on Friday and the school would likely plant a tree in the playground in her honor.
“Olivia just wanted to be friends with everyone,” she said. “She was always looking to help someone out and look on the positive side of things.”
Billings said she would remember the “good things about Olivia, not when she was sick.”
“She told me she had decided she wanted to be a veterinarian, except she didn’t ‘want to do any of the gross stuff,’ ” she said with a laugh. “That was Olivia, ‘Let’s look at the fun side of things.’ ”
A visitation for Olivia Billings will be held from 6 to 8 p.m. Thursday at Heckart Funeral Home. The funeral will be at 1:30 p.m. Friday in the Green Ridge High School gym. In lieu of flowers, the family asks donations be sent to the St. Louis Ronald McDonald House, 4381 W. Pine St., St. Louis, Mo., 63108.