wp header logo 724

Lansing kindergartener, her dog share same health challenge – WDIV ClickOnDetroit

Safura Syed
Frank McGeorge, MD, Local 4's Medical Expert
Safura Syed
Frank McGeorge, MD, Local 4's Medical Expert
LANSING, Mich. – Kindergartner Robin Repko loves baking, singing songs from Moana and playing with her new dog, Applesauce. The Repko family adopted Applesauce this April, but the dog captured their hearts even before she entered their home.
Both Applesauce and Robin had the same cardiac condition — patent ductus arteriosus (PDA). Almost all children are born with this connection in the heart between the aorta and pulmonary artery, but it usually closes within the first few days of life. For Robin and Applesauce, though, that opening never closed naturally.
Parents Brandy Johnson and Will Repko were alerted to Robin’s condition after doctors discovered a heart murmur when she was just 18 months old. They went to C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital, where interventional pediatric cardiologist Dr. Jeff Zampi operated on Robin to reduce her risk of endocarditis, a type of heart infection.
“Of all of Robin’s kind of complex birth defects, the heart defect was the only thing that was truly life-threatening,” Johnson said. “Going through her heart surgery was I think particularly nerve-wracking for us as parents because we were nervous that if the surgery failed or it wouldn’t work that she would need additional surgeries.”
Robin’s surgery didn’t have any complications, and last fall her heart was deemed perfectly healthy by Dr. Zampi. It wasn’t Robin’s first or last surgery, though. Robin was also born with a cleft lip and palate as well as hemifacial microsomia – a condition that prevented the right side of her face from fully developing in utero. Throughout her life and as her face changes, Robin will have to undergo many operations to make her face more symmetrical. According to Dr. Christian Vercler, Director of Craniofacial Anomalies Program at the University of Michigan and one of Robin’s specialists, Robin needs a bone graft to her gumline and a jaw and ear reconstruction. Each operation requires overnight hospital stays and weeks-long recovery periods at home.
“Her life is very medicalized in that we can help her with all these things but she’s always needing to come to the hospital and come to the clinic [to be] taken care of by a number of specialists,” Vercler said.
Johnson wanted to find a dog to help her daughter as she recovered from surgeries, missing crucial time in school and with friends.
“We really did want a dog that we knew could be a friend and a companion for Robin throughout her childhood as we know she’ll need a companion when she’s home recovering surgeries and she has to miss lots of school,” Johnson said. “We hoped that we could build in a best friend.”
Johnson searched for a small, family-friendly dog that desperately needed a home. She eventually found a shih tzu in an Ohio shelter that had been left behind by puppy brokers because it had a heart murmur. The shelter raised money through GoFundMe to take the dog to a veterinary cardiologist and discovered that it had PDA, the same condition Robin had.
“When we happened to find this dog, that was exactly what we were looking for, and then to find out it had the PDA, it just felt like fate,” Johnson said.
According to Zampi, PDAs are a common type of congenital heart disease – almost 1 in 2,000 children have ones that require medical intervention. The same type of heart defect also occurs at a high rate in puppies.
Inspired by the miraculous similarities between Robin and the dog, Johnson and Repko adopted the shih tzu and paid for its cardiac surgery. After a few days of recovery, the family welcomed newly christened Applesauce Quesadilla Repko into their Lansing home. The dog was named after Robin and her brother Kirby’s favorite foods, respectively.
Since her addition to the family, Applesauce has brought joy to Robin, Kirby and the rest of the neighborhood.
“She’s really popular,” Kirby said. “It’s because [of] her cuteness.”
According to Repko and Johnson, kindness is something Applesauce and Robin have in common.
“[Applesauce] is especially kind, perhaps ridiculously so,” Repko said. “It’s hard to take her on a walk and not stop. She wants to greet everyone. The construction worker that’s busy doing their job has to stop what they’re doing because Applesauce needs just a little bit of attention.”
Every day, Applesauce and Repko walk the kids to school. Sometimes, Applesauce even wakes Robin in the morning by jumping onto her bed and licking her face. The dog and the kids play with each other after school, too. Robin enjoys going on walks with Applesauce and shaking her paws.
“Just look at her legs,” Robin said. “They’re so cute!”
In their home, Robin and Kirby lug Applesauce around, who sits calmly in their arms. They watch T.V. with her, too, and Applesauce has become a part of the family’s daily routine. Applesauce is a gentle and docile dog, a perfect match for Robin’s spunky and exuberant personality. Despite the challenges she’s faced and the five surgeries that she has had to endure in the six short years of her life, Robin is hopeful and joyous.
“I feel like she’s got all the energy and personality to persevere through all these things that life has thrown her way,” Vercler said.
Doctors and Robin’s parents hope that the connection between Applesauce and Robin will help Robin heal and remind her that she is not alone.
“I think it’s really great for kids psyche to realize this is something that happens to not just them, it happens to other people too and be able to cope with the things that often happen to them medically,” Zampi said.
Robin doesn’t let her health condition keep her down. She has her eyes on the future. When she grows up, she wants to be a chef and open a restaurant.
Johnson and Repko look proudly on their daughter. Riffing on of her daughter’s favorite songs, Johnson said, “There’s just no telling how far she’ll go.”
Copyright 2023 by WDIV ClickOnDetroit – All rights reserved.
Dr. McGeorge can be seen on Local 4 News helping Metro Detroiters with health concerns when he isn't helping save lives in the emergency room at Henry Ford Hospital.
Click here to take a moment and familiarize yourself with our Community Guidelines.
Recommended Videos

If you need help with the Public File, call (313) 222-0556.
At WDIV, we are committed to informing and delighting our audience. In our commitment to covering our communities with innovation and excellence, we incorporate Artificial Intelligence (AI) technologies to enhance our news gathering, reporting, and presentation processes. Read our article to see how we are using Artificial Intelligence.
Copyright © 2024 ClickOnDetroit.com is managed by Graham Digital and published by Graham Media Group, a division of Graham Holdings.


Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top