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A Work of Heart: Macy’s Way is paving the way for puppy love to save the day

Dec 27, 2022 08:23AM ● By Sara Locke
Macy Stevens’ father, Jordan Stevens, is all smiles with a litter of Macy’s Way’s service puppies.

Photo by Bill Sitzmann.

Macy Stevens’ heart may have failed her, but it never failed those around her. In just under 21 years, she managed to leave a legacy that will impact countless lives as her family spreads the word about Macy’s Way. 

In 1998, Jordan Stevens and his wife were excitedly looking for 10 fingers and 10 toes at their baby’s 20-week anatomy scan. “We decided to wait to find out her gender, we wanted to be surprised.”

But the surprise wasn’t one they’d hoped for. 

“During the ultrasound, the tech skipped the results of her heart exam and stepped out,” Jordan said. “Then the doctor came in.”

After a flurry of appointments and specialists confirmed the diagnosis, the outlook was grim. 
“They said she had major heart abnormalities, congenital heart defects. Tricuspid atresia, transposition of the great arteries and pulmonary stenosis,” Jordan recalled. “Macy’s first surgery was at 1 month old, her second at 6 months, and her third at 3 years.

“Macy went into heart failure around her 3rd birthday. We had to choose whether to list her for a transplant, or to try a new medication and wait. We thought we had more time, and knew if we could wait, medications would catch up, technology would catch up.” 

Then in 2008, Karen picked up 10-year-old Macy from a friend’s house and noticed swelling. Another trip to the doctor revealed that Macy was once again experiencing heart failure. In August 2008, the Stevens made the 432-mile journey to Saint Louis, Missouri, the nearest transplant center at the time, and listed Macy. 

The family did their best to provide Macy a sense of normalcy between hospital stays, while frequent tail-wagging visitors to the children’s ward did their part toward making the rest of the time bearable. 

“They always brought therapy dogs to visit the kids, and she would always ask about them,” Jordan said. “It was a huge comfort to have this furry friend she could look forward to seeing.”
Macy experienced life anew when a heart became available on December 2, 2008.

She made the volleyball team just 10 months after her transplant, went skiing with her family in Colorado, and became an opinionated teen who loved art and music. Jordan refused to waste a moment.

“Teenagers get to a point where they don’t talk much. That’s why I loved driving her home from volleyball. For 20 minutes, she was trapped in that car with a choice between talking and us playing each other music,” he recalled. “Our playlists ended up becoming intermingled. She would sometimes play me a song when she was struggling, and it really helped me relate to her.”
Macy’s love of animals would develop into a vocation, and she took a position as a dog groomer. 

“She started developing ideas for a shop where people could bring their pets for grooming that would serve coffee. She had figured out a job for everyone in the family. Her sisters, Mia and Sophia, would work with her. Her mom would be the accountant. She was really figuring it out,” Jordan said. 

Then, during the family’s 2019 vacation, Macy started to feel sick once more. When the family returned home, a visit to Nebraska Medical Center showed Macy was experiencing transplant rejection and resultant heart failure. 

“She had to be sedated and her heart just got worse and worse,” her father recalled. “There was no chance for another transplant. June 12, 17 days before her 21st birthday, she passed away.”
In time, the family would regain their bearings and come to realize that sharing Macy’s love of dogs would help them heal while helping others.

“Animals meant so much to her. We wanted to honor that and launched Macy’s Way,” Jordan explained. “Our mission is to place service animals with families undergoing hardships. Lulu, Macy’s Goldendoodle, had a litter on September 17th. We’ll be placing those four pups with families who’ve applied through our website.”

Molly Trevathan was working as an athletic trainer for Creighton’s volleyball and soccer programs when she applied for puppy placement through Macy’s Way. 

“Creighton puts a lot of emphasis on mental health, and it’s really been a focus for several years,” Trevathan said. “[CU is] improving resources and removing the stigma of struggling, and making the topic more comfortable for their athletes.” 

Puppy Nelly was placed with Trevathan and immediately set to work, introducing the service pup to students to help reduce their stress levels and raise spirits.

“You can see it on their faces as soon as Nelly comes in. Some of these kids are homesick or struggling on their own for the first time,” Trevathan said. “It can be a lot, and having Nelly show up and just be there for these athletes can make such a difference in their day and in their mood. It matters.”

Every new friend Nelly makes is a new opportunity to share Macy’s story—her courage, and her admiration for the power of animals to bring comfort, dispel grief, and unite people. 

Visit macysway.com for more information.

This article originally appeared in the January/February 2023 issue of Omaha Magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.  

Photo by Bill Sitzmann.

 

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