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5 Milestones Reached Since Amelia Received a Heart Transplant Counting on You

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When the Garcias found out they were pregnant, they were overjoyed. The first grandbaby on both sides of the family, Amelia’s arrival was highly anticipated. But, unfortunately, near the day of Amelia’s arrival, the Garcias were told she had a heart defect.

Amelia underwent catheterization surgery at the tender age of four days to obtain images of her heart. One week later, the results revealed that a heart transplant was imperative since surgery was not viable and the transplant center was out of the family’s state. The family was at a loss on what to do, but they resolved to relocate near the transplant center to increase Amelia’s chances of survival.

"Amelia could become a doctor and cure cancer, she could be President of the United States. I mean, it's endless. She could be a superstar, she could be a Broadway star, she could find a cure for heart disease. She could become an astronaut. Or, you know, maybe she'll just live a full happy, wonderful, incredible life. And I think that's what we all want for our children, for them to be happy and thrive."

Ava Kaufman | Heart and transplant recipient, and founder of Ava's Heart

Their daunting task was eased by Ava's Heart, a non-profit organization based in Los Angeles that offers free pre and post-operative housing for transplant patients and their caregivers, highlighting the potency of community support. After a brief stint on the transplant list, Amelia received a new heart. Presently, she has mastered oral medication administration, bottle feeding, and solid foods, marking five milestones since her transplant. The Garcias are hopeful of achieving more milestones, all thanks to the selflessness of the donor family.

Read Transcript

ESMERALDA GARCIA

When you first hear your child needs a transplant, of course, it's so scary. It's your heart; it's like the engine of your body. And I would search up and down on social media and on the internet, and I'm like, I don't want to see the sad stories. I want to see the happy story at the end. How are they thriving? How are growing? Are they going to toddler gymnastics? Now that our daughter had her transplant and she's doing so well, I'm seeing her trying to crawl, and learning to sit up on her own. Look at this beautiful side of transplant. Your baby will thrive and learn and crawl, and there's a beautiful side at the end.

September 29th, we found out I was pregnant, and she's the first grandbaby on both sides so we were over the moon that we finally were going to start our little family with her; bring a little baby into this world. At my 20-week anatomy scan, they told us she had pulmonary atresia with an intact vertical septum. At the time, they told us that she would need heart surgery. So when she was four days old, she had a catheterization surgery to get more imagery of her heart. And when she was one week old, that imagery came back, and that's when they told us that she needed a full heart transplant, that surgery was not an option and that we would have to leave out of state. The first thing we say is, "Well, what are we going to do?" We have to go and save our baby and give her a chance. She is loved, and so wanted, so it was never an option not to come here. I've only gotten to hold my baby...

FRANKY GARCIA

Twice.

ESMERALDA GARCIA

Yeah, like a handful of times. Half of those times, they’ve taken her away really fast because she turns purple because she starts having apnea episodes where she's not getting enough oxygenated blood. There's just too much with her little body for us to safely hold her, so all we can do is just hold her little hands and her little feet.

You know it happens, but you never think it's going to be you. You see the stories on the news, and you maybe will see somebody on Instagram, but you never in a million years say, "Oh, I'm going to be that story. I'm going to be that mom." Eventually, our baby will come home. We just have to wait for her little miracle heart to come.

It's very easy to think, oh my gosh, what if we're waiting four months, then it's going to be Christmas, and then we're going to spend the holidays with our daughter in the hospital, and that's really hard for me to think about, so I try to not let my mind go there.

FRANKY GARCIA

What I kind of tried to tell her is, the only thing to do is just think about what we're going to do today, maybe tomorrow. Don't try to think about, oh, we're going to be here December, until Christmas time, because we really don't know.

ESMERALDA GARCIA

When the call comes, it's going to come. When it's meant to be her heart, it will be her heart.

So, Amelia is six months old now, and she is four months post-heart transplant. She is doing absolutely incredible. Her heart function is great, her blood work is coming back perfectly where they want it. She's learned to take all her medications by mouth now. She's drinking all her bottles and just started solids. She also has two little bottom teeth, and of course, the hair is just as wild and crazy, but now in a ponytail, so she's doing really, really well.

AVA KAUFMAN

Transplant is a really difficult thing. Emotionally, and physically, and it affects the entire family. The entire situation with the Garcias was pretty phenomenal. They were so vulnerable and so emotional and so raw to see them, I can't say relaxed because their baby was waiting for a heart, but to see them breathe for a minute.

I remember the day that Esmeralda and Frankie got the call. They were at the hospital visiting their daughter, and she called me up, and she said, "Ava, you're not going to believe it. We got the phone call. She's getting her heart today." It was such a joyous time for them, but there was so much sadness because we all knew that another baby had passed away. There were just so many mixed emotions. Esmeralda was so raw with how she felt, and she talked a lot about the donor family.

ESMERALDA GARCIA

Thank you, I feel like is not a big enough expression to say how we feel, because she gave us the gift of life for our child while she was going through something so painful; through her own sorrow, she decided to save our daughter by saying yes. I will think about your baby every single day. Your baby's memory, it's going to be alive as long as I'm alive, as long as she's alive. Not a day will pass, not a milestone that she reaches doesn't happen where we don't think about them and keep them in our prayers and light a candle for them and send them all the best wishes.

ERICA GARCIA

Amelia, if you just see her and you don't know about her story, you wouldn't even be able to tell that she is an organ recipient. She's so happy, full of giggles, always smiling, and you can just tell that she's thriving, that everything's going to be fine, and she's going to be able to live a normal life.

ESMERALDA GARCIA

So much of life, it almost feels like a checkmark. You feel like you checked it all, like the checks. And for us, one of the last things on our list as individuals and as a couple was to have a baby and bring her home, and our journey looked a lot different than we could have ever imagined. But she's home now, and she's home just in time for Christmas. And I don't think words will ever be enough to say how thankful we are that her wait list was so short.

I know so many other heart moms whose babies are still waiting on the list, and they went on the list at the same time as Amelia, and they don't get to have their baby home for Christmas when we do. And a simple yes, a simple check mark and consideration, changes people's lives, and it saves lives. And it isn't just saving one life. She had one heart and one transplant, but she saved all of us. You didn't just save my baby, but you saved me as a mom, you saved our family, you saved our parents, and you saved our siblings. You're not just saving the person the heart is going to, you're saving a whole family.

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