On a Monday four years ago, Sydney’s mother, Leah, took her eight-year-old daughter, Jada, to the GP for what she suspected was stubborn constipation.
Within days Jada was in intensive care – desperate for a new heart.
“I couldn’t breathe,” says Leah 7life of his shock and confusion upon hearing the news.
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“I was walking around Randwick (hospital) – couldn’t even get in and see her.”
Looking back, the mum can’t believe she didn’t notice the symptoms of heart failure and urges parents to ‘never think it’s nothing’.
The ordeal for the eight-year-old – and her distraught mother – began with Jada’s bloated belly.
The youngest of four children, the elementary school student was constantly napping, which Leah attributed to Jada as the “baby of the family.”
But one Monday morning in 2018, the little girl was experiencing mild abdominal discomfort, so Leah took her to the GP thinking her daughter might be constipated.
The doctor confirmed the mother’s suspicions and suggested medication to help relieve the symptoms.
He also wrote a recommendation for an ultrasound if things didn’t improve.
At home, Leah told Jada to drink more water, to hopefully help alleviate the problem.
But on Wednesday, Jada’s belly was still enlarged, prompting Leah to book the first possible ultrasound, for Friday afternoon.
Meanwhile, at school, cruel teasing began to swirl around Jada’s growing stomach, eventually coming back to Leah.
“People were asking if Jada was okay. A child told Jada she looked pregnant,” Leah says.
After school on Friday, Leah took Jada for the ultrasound, recalling that the “tech just turned white.”
“He said to go back to our GP straight away – it was 5pm, the doctor was closed, but the tech just told us they would stay open for us,” Leah recalled.
Unaware that her daughter was seriously ill, the mother calmly drove to the doctor.
The GP quickly read the ultrasound report and revealed that Jada’s organs were enlarged – advising Leah to go to Randwick Children’s Hospital.
As Leah drove, she glanced at Jada in the rearview mirror.
She was shocked to notice her daughter’s stomach bulging over the seat belt, Jada unconsciously resting her hands on her engorged belly.
“It was the first moment I knew something was seriously wrong,” Leah says.
Upon arriving at the hospital, Jada was surrounded by heart and liver specialists as they discussed which organ needed the most immediate attention.
In intensive care, the brave girl was hooked up to machines and five liters of fluid were released from her abdomen.
The specialists then discovered that there was no problem with the little girl’s liver – that, at least, was a welcome relief.
On Sunday, the mother reveals that Jada “was a completely different girl.”
“She was cartwheeling. I’ve never seen her so energetic in my life,” Leah says.
Hospital staff suggested Leah go home to rest, before an appointment with a cardiologist the next day.
On Monday, the mother showed up alone at the appointment.
“You know how doctors can be, she was straight to the point,” Leah says.
“She said, ‘Jada has restrictive cardiomyopathy (RCM) and needs a heart transplant’.”
RCM causes the heart chambers to stiffen over time, which limits blood flow to the body.
Lea started crying.
Pacing the floors of the hospital, she finally found the courage to confront her daughter – who was unaware that she needed a new heart.
“She was sleeping,” Leah reveals. “I was crying and crying and holding her.
“She had heart failure and they (doctors) didn’t know when her heart would stop.”
The following months were tormenting for the family as they endured an agonizing wait at home for a donor heart to save their baby girl’s life.
Every few days, Jada returned to the hospital.
There she was pricked and pushed, blood was drawn and samples were examined to ensure she was perfectly healthy when a heart became available.
For six months, the family had “to-go bags” at the front door, ready to drop everything and head to the hospital for the transplant.
Eventually their prayers were answered – after six months an organ was available in Melbourne.
“We were just sitting down to dinner when we got the call,” Leah recalled.
“Poor Jada had to act fast so she couldn’t even eat.”
Grabbing their bags, they headed straight for the airport and jumped on the next available flight.
Jada faced every step of the journey – from getting off the plane to the operating room – with a smile on her face.
“We stayed with her in the operating room until they put her under,” Leah says.
“I made a joke that if she succeeds in [the count of] 10 when they put her below that we would buy her an iPhone.
“But at the last second, just before sinking, she got scared and grabbed my face and said, ‘No, mum,’ and then she got out.”
Instantly, the mother burst into tears.
The operation was a success and Jada was rushed to intensive care a few hours later.
Coiled in cables, she and her new heart were kept alive by machines.
“Nothing prepares you for seeing your child on life support,” the mother says.
Leah spent two months in Melbourne with Jada as her baby girl recovered, before she was able to return home to Sydney.
However, Jada still needed regular checkups to make sure she wasn’t experiencing organ rejection.
Make a wish
The constant testing began to take its toll on the young girl, who began to experience post-traumatic stress and anxiety around the incessant hospital visits.
It was then that the family was introduced to the Make a wish foundation.
With the help of the charity, they were able to fulfill Jada’s wish – to own a pet cat for the first time.
With Leah allergic to cat hair, Jada asked for a Sphynx, or hairless cat – who, coincidentally, carries a heart condition similar to Jada.
Jada opened up to the Make-A-Wish team about her transplant — something she hadn’t done before.
Then after months of searching, Penny was welcomed into the family.
“Penny brought Jada out of her shell,” smiled Leah.
“She took her to the first day of school, she lays on her chest when she’s upset and everything we do Jada knows she can come home and Penny will be there.”
The tween now has the confidence to attend vital medical appointments again.
And on her last date, she was given the green light.
Her body officially shows no signs of rejection – a milestone.
Jada is now 12 years old and in her seventh year of high school.
She is forever grateful for the generous donations that brought Penny into her life.
But his deepest gratitude is reserved for the person and his family who gave him the gift of life – his new heart.
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