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MIAMI (CBSMiami)– A 6-month old girl is headed home with a new heart, given a second chance at life.

“She’s gone through more than most people could ever go through. She is so strong. I feel I have to step up as a father so I can be stronger than her and be an example to her,” said Eliana Mendez’s father Abdiel.

At 3-months old, doctors diagnosed Eliana with a life-threatening heart condition called dilated cardiomyopathy that could lead to heart failure.

The baby girl spent half of her life, so far, inside the hospital until they could find her a donor.

“It was overwhelming, especially when the doctors tell you she is a ticking time bomb. She can go at any moment, we could find a heart, she can go at any time. It was hard for sure for a long period if time,” said Abdiel.

But Eliana kept a good attitude.

“She was always smiling, the happiest patient in the ICU,” said Abdiel. “You would have never known she was waiting on a heart transplant.”

Luckily in August, after finding a donor, doctors at the Holtz Children’s Hospital at the University of Miami/Jackson Memorial Medical Center performed the transplant, giving her a new heart.

uckily in August, after finding a donor, doctors at the Holtz Children's Hospital at the University of Miami/Jackson Memorial Medical Center performed the transplant, giving her a new heart. (Courtesy: Jackson Health System)

Luckily in August, after finding a donor, doctors at the Holtz Children’s Hospital at the University of Miami/Jackson Memorial Medical Center performed the transplant, giving her a new heart. (Courtesy: Jackson Health System)

But things didn’t always look that bright for her family.

Eliana first became ill in June with nausea and lethargy, prompting her parents to take her in for a check up. Her pediatrician gave her medication but after that didn’t seem to work, her parents made a decision that doctors say likely saved her life.  They took her into the emergency room which is when doctors diagnosed her with the heart condition.

“We had no idea. They had intubated her. It was like 20 people around her and we had no idea what was going on,” said her mother Alejandra Mendez.

Months later, in the arms of her parent, Eliana is going home with a second chance at life.

“We could enjoy her more, love her more, happier more because we suffered so much with her these past six months with her,” said Abdiel.

“Above all I’m happy my family is getting its life back – no more indefinite stays at the hospital with the uncertainty of knowing when Eliana’s heart will show up or if it will show up in time for her to live,” said Alejandra.

As for her future, the doctor’s research could guide them in the future treatment for Eliana’s family thanks to a gene test.

“Because of our participation in this national study, and our ongoing efforts to identify the drivers of each patient’s disease, the Mendez family will know shortly whether other family members might currently be at risk of cardiomyopathy, and they’ll learn whether Eliana carries a gene that could be passed on to her children someday,” said Pediatric Cardiac Surgeon Paolo Rusconi with UHealth.

Marybel Rodriguez

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