‘She touched so many lives’: Ohio girl, 5, born with half a heart dies

NEWARK, Ohio — A 5-year-old girl born with half a heart was remembered by a heartbroken Ohio community after her death last week.

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Maci Renee Whisner, of Newark, died Sept. 19, according to her obituary. The child battled with hypoplastic left heart syndrome, winning affection from the community and online through her mother’s postings chronicling Maci’s triumphs and setbacks on Facebook, the Newark Advocate reported.

“I can’t believe that this is real life,” Karissa Whisner wrote Monday on the Facebook page Maci’s Mended Heart. “My baby is gone. I’ll never hold her earthly body again, or hear her voice in our house, I’ll never cuddle her or feel her warm body in my arms. I feel an inexplicable peace most moments, and then I feel unexpected waves of intense grief where my soul aches for Maci and I realize, ‘Oh my gosh. My baby is gone. She died. She really died.’”

Hypoplastic left heart syndrome is a birth defect that affects normal blood flow through the heart, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. As a baby develops during pregnancy, the left side of the heart does not form correctly.

According to her obituary, Maci Whisner was “famous for her abilities as a world-class cuddler.”

“Maci’s bright eyes and infectious smile showed the world that joy can be found in simple things,” the obituary stated. “With each surgery and procedure she pulled through, she gave humanity a reason to hope. With each small milestone she surpassed, she proved that determination and prayer are powerful weapons.”

Family members, friends and members of the community attended Friday’s visitation at Brucker & Kishler Funeral Home in Newark to file past Maci Whisner’s tiny pink casket. On Saturday, she was laid to rest in Wilson Cemetery.

Jane Johnson, of Utica, teaches at Happy Hearts Child Care Center in St. Louisville, where Maci Whisner’s younger sister attends.

“I can’t believe how one little girl impacted the world so much,” Johnson told the Advocate.

Rastin Tower, in nearby Mount Vernon, and the city’s downtown bridges were lit in pink Friday night to honor Maci Whisner. Students at Garfield Elementary School wore red on Tuesday to honor her.

“She was a special spirit -- she really was,” Maci Whisner’s uncle, Joe Scianna, who traveled from Boston to attend the service, told the Advocate. “She touched so many lives in such a short time.”