At first glance, Lilyanna Knerr seems like any other student at Three Springs High School in Cheney. That is, until the large vertical scar on her chest reveals some of her health problems.
She was born with transposition of the great vessels, a congenital heart defect where the two major arteries that carry blood toward the heart are switched. She was also born with dextrocardia, a condition in which the heart is in the wrong place. “My heart was in the wrong place and they moved it,” she said.
She had heart valve surgery at age 9 and has two artificial valves in her heart. “My stomach was messed up, too,” she said.
Her experiences in the health care system caused her trauma, including anxiety and depression that make it hard to leave the house. “Beeping noises and sirens make me panic,” she said.
Her mother died when she was 6 months old. Knerr had a quiet childhood and turned to art to express her feelings and emotions. “My parents kind of sheltered me for a long time,” she said. “My brother was always allowed to do things I wasn’t even though he was younger than me. I spent a lot of time inside doing music and crafts and things.”
She grew up painting and drawing and currently is focusing on anime and digital art. She used to sing in the choir and has been a member of several game clubs. Her physical activity is limited to walking and weight lifting because of her heart condition. “I’ve got to be really careful doing stuff,” she said. “If I overdo it, it’s really bad.”
When it came time for high school, Knerr said she didn’t fit it well at Cheney High School and had some trouble with bullies. “At Cheney, I couldn’t keep up with the teachers,” she said.
Instead she switched over to Three Springs, an alternative high school. “The teachers are very understanding,” she said. “It’s smaller, so I don’t get as anxious.”
Counselor Travis Weese said Knerr has done well despite a life-long battle with her physical health. “Lily has been dealt a tough hand in life,” he said. “Lily, despite her early health prognosis, has persevered and taken control of what she can – her education. We are proud of the obstacles Lily has overcome and excited for her next adventure.”
While Knerr has already had several surgeries, more are in her future. She recently had a heart infection that landed her in the hospital and is waiting to hear from her doctors if she needs to have another heart valve surgery this summer, which would delay her entrance into college until the spring.
Knerr has been accepted to Evergreen State College, which she toured on the suggestion of one of her teachers. “It’s a nerdy school,” she said. “It’s an art school. It’s a smaller campus, too, so it’s not super overwhelming.”
She plans to study psychology and art so she can become an art therapist. Knerr said she has a therapist that has helped her and she wants to help in a way that she physically can. “I want to do something that helps other people,” she said. “I’d like to help people feel better.”