BUTTE — Six-year-old Annalyn Halvorsen loves mermaids because they have super powers.
The "wise-beyond-her-years" Butte girl is super in her own right as she faces a medical diagnosis that may one day cause her heart to fail but will not crush her precocious spirit.
"She is sick and dying and full of life," said Annalyn's father, Wayne Halvorsen, in an emotional interview with The Montana Standard.
Annalyn was born six weeks early at St. James Healthcare and within a day was diagnosed with hypoplastic left heart syndrome, a rare heart defect that causes the heart to be severely under-developed.
The then-tiny newborn and her mother, Lisa Rooney, were immediately flown to Seattle Children's Hospital where the family was told multiple surgeries would be needed to increase the blood flow to Annalyn's body and bypass the left side of her heart to restore heart function.
Annalyn had her first procedure at less than a month old at the Seattle facility and a second one when she was 6 months. By age 4, her parents learned her left lung was not working. A double lung-heart transplant, they were told, had a "maybe five-year survival rate."
Butte's elevation of more than 5,500 feet caused Annalyn to be "very hypoxic," said Rooney.
"She couldn't run, play like other kids" and had little appetite, she said.
A third procedure at a San Francisco hospital by the surgeon who performed the first two surgeries in Seattle failed during Annalyn and Rooney's several-month stay in the Golden Gate city.
In November 2014, Rooney took her daughter to the Oregon coast to live with family and benefit from the lower elevation.
But Annalyn suffered from severe medical post-traumatic stress and was miserable, said Rooney, her voice breaking. She added that Annalyn could not eat, vomited blood several times a day, and ended up with aspiration pneumonia, an inflammation of the lungs and bronchial tubes.
In early 2015, Halvorsen said he and Rooney made the decision to seek a heart-lung transplant at a Palo Alto, Calif., children's hospital, where they were told their daughter was in advanced heart failure.
Rooney said Annalyn's kidneys were also failing, her liver was enlarged, and her one good lung had started to fail.
"We thought she was going to die," Rooney said.
A transplant would require Annalyn to take "massive diuretics" and lose 15 pounds of fluid that she had retained due to her failing heart. Five weeks went by, and she had shed only four and a half pounds of fluids.
"By the fifth week, she was devastated" said Rooney, adding that Annalyn kept saying, "'I just want to go home and sleep in my bed.'"
Annalyn longed to return to Butte; she even missed the taste of her hometown water. If she only had five days in Butte, it would be better than multiple procedures and hospital stays, the family decided before bringing her home in June 2015.
"When we stepped foot in Butte, she was like 'I'm home.' It's what's kept her living," Rooney said.
Halvorsen and Rooney had divorced the previous year. Halvorsen kept the home fires burning with son Chance, now 20, while Rooney sought treatment for their daughter on the West Coast.
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Rooney and Annalyn's homecoming signaled a new chapter for the family and a conscious effort to make every moment count, because "it's about her."
A supportive community of family and friends sustains them, Rooney said. A gift of a king-size bed has become a sanctuary, creating a safe and cozy place for Annalyn to bask in her parents' love each night as she slumbers next to her oxygen machine, her beloved Chihuahua Bentley, and pet cat.
The 37-pound girl, who adores Harry Potter, caramel vanilla ice cream and knock-knock jokes, has touched the lives of many, including the men and women of the Butte-Silver Bow Law Enforcement Department.
When Undersheriff George Skuletich invited her to participate in the city's Fourth of July parade, she asked to join with the police. She was sworn in at an official ceremony July 3 and received a badge, certificate and uniform.
"She calls me her partner," said Skuletich with a smile.
The undersheriff revealed that a 9-year-old niece died from a heart condition. That experience helped to fuel his close bond with Annalyn, whose parents Skuletich said are lifelong family friends.
At the Butte Police Protective Association annual holiday celebration Jan. 16, Annalyn was awarded Officer of the Year for "arresting" a criminal named Kevin, a Butte detective who had agreed to dress up like a "bad guy" so that Annalyn could get her wish of feeling like a real cop.
"It was great; she got a standing ovation," Skuletich said, adding that Annalyn met her arrestee, who told her he turned his life around and was now working with the police department.
"It's been a special thing for the department. Every officer has adopted her as one" of their own, Skuletich said. "I just look at Annalyn … the toughness is an inspiration."
Rooney said the recognition by law enforcement is heartwarming and has had a profound impact on her little girl.
Each day is a gift to Annalyn and her family. Her buoyant spirit and humor make surprise visits. On Friday, her parents asked her how bats navigate.
"Echolocation," she said excitedly. "They sleep in the day just like my brother."
"He's famous too. He told me to say that. He asks my dad for money. I don't do that 'cause I already have money," said Annalyn proudly.
Rooney said her daughter is physically unable to have a much-needed transplant. Annalyn runs hot, and her rosy cheeks indicate fluid retention. She takes three different "powerful" diuretics every six hours in addition to other medications.
Being angry at God has been a fierce reality bite, but Rooney is thankful for the time they have with Annalyn.
Rooney has learned patience and humility. For Halvorsen, his daughter's battle has taught him to live each moment.
Along the journey, Rooney has seen Halvorsen's compassion and a father who has been present.
"I think of how much he's truly given of himself for the goodness of our family," she said.