Hailey Morton is an identical twin with striking blue eyes, a 10-year-old's smile and an ailing heart.
When her father, Carson City sheriff's Deputy Brian Morton, puts his ear to her chest, the sound is different than he hears on his other three children. Instead of the familiar "thump, thump," Morton said, he hears, "whoosh, whoosh."
"That's her valve failing."
Without corrective open-heart surgery, Hailey will die before she turns 18.
The surgery is set for July 20 at the University of California Davis Medical Center outside Sacramento, but if her dad doesn't get some financial help while he's by her side, the sole breadwinner for the family of six will be without a paycheck.
Despite his comrades' willingness to donate vacation hours, Morton's situation doesn't qualify him for such a program under his contract's catastrophic leave clause.
"If I can get enough help, I can take leave without pay," he said Tuesday. "But I don't care what it takes. I might lose everything I own. But my family comes first."
Hailey and her identical sister, Alyssa, were born with the same condition, called pulmonary stenosis, a narrowing of the pulmonary valve. Only Hailey's condition has progressed to where it's life threatening, Morton said.
Normally the pulmonary valve opens to let low-oxygen blood flow from the right ventricle to the lungs where the blood is oxygenated. Because of the narrowing, the right ventricle has to pump harder to get past the stenotic valve. This has led to Hailey's right ventricle being enlarged.
She goes to bed early, Alyssa said.
"I get tired fast," Hailey admitted.
Doctors anticipate if all goes well during the surgery to correct the valve, Hailey's hospital stay will last only week. But transportation, lodging and food for Morton; his wife, Nikki; son, Collin, 6; daughter Sierra, 4, and Alyssa won't be free. It will put a strain on the already stretched budget, he admits.
"This trip could literally bankrupt this family," said Sheriff's Department Chaplain Bill Colonna. "Brian's not going to have the income because he doesn't have the vacation time and the sick time built up. When he goes down there, he goes down on his own dime."
Colonna is familiar with Morton's situation. When his own son was born 10 years ago, the baby spent the first month of his life in the intensive care unit, Colonna said.
"I had to go from one town to another and lost my job as a result," he recalled. "Brian won't lose his job, but I don't want to see him go through the financial struggles he faces.
"He puts his life on the line every day for us. The least we can do as a community is rally around them and do what we can."
For Hailey and Alyssa, who plan to be veterinarians when they grow up, the prospect of surgery is frightening.
Hailey admits she doesn't think about it often. "I don't like to," she said.
Alyssa, perhaps, thinks about it too much. She's glad her sister will be able to play again after the surgery. It's the alternative that scares her.
"I'm afraid she's going to die."
Contact F.T. Norton at email@example.com or 881-1213.