Monday, December 25, 2000

Heart arrives in time for baby's first birthday

“There are simply no words.”

By Tom O'Neill
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        For her first birthday, Asia Miller got a really cool Tigger doll, her first teddy bear, and a stuffed frog that — seemingly without provocation — breaks into the “If You're Happy and You Know It” song.

        Asia knows it. Her family knows it. Everybody in the intensive care unit at Children's Hospital Medical Center knows it.

[photo] Dawn Miller sits with her 1-year-old grand-daughter Asia at Children's Hospital Medical Center on Sunday.
(Brandi Stafford photo)
| ZOOM |
        For her birthday, coincidental as it is, Asia also got a new heart.

        And a new chance at a life that likely would have ended in a few days, according to the surgeon who on Saturday morning put the heart in the Colerain Township baby and watched it beat.

        “There are simply no words,” her emotionally drained grandmother, Dawn Miller, 42, said Sunday in a quiet side room, away from the constant monitor beeps that are the soundtrack of the ICU at Children's.

        The subject turned to Christmas and Ms. Miller's words slowed to a crawl, recalling what nearly happened a week ago.

        “She died in my arms,” she said. “But they were right around the corner and put her back on the ventilator... You could see it, she was dying. I just sat in a rocking chair and sobbed.

        “We started making funeral arrangements.”

        This weekend Asia, born with multiple heart defects that resulted in holes in her heart muscle, sat upright and watched a tape of the Little Mermaid on TV.

        Her personality, famous now in the ICU for its sparkle, was back. Her birthday was Friday, the day news arrived of a potential donor. Surgery took place early Saturday morning.

        On Sunday, wires and tubes draped across the front of her red dress, Asia looked up when she heard her grandmother's voice. A week ago, she wouldn't have had the strength to lift her head off the pillow.

        “She'd been pretty sick, and getting worse every day,” said Dr. Jeffrey Pearl, director of pediatric heart transplants at Children's, who performed the procedure.

        "Her heart was a big bag that didn't move, so we kept her asleep. She had limited time. If she hadn't gotten the heart, none of us thought she'd make it another week.”

        Nationally, 20 percent of people on the heart-transplant waiting list die waiting. The percentage is higher among pediatric patients, Dr. Pearl said, because there are far fewer potential donors.

        “Transplants are always special,” Dr. Pearl said. “The moment it starts to beat, like it's supposed to be there, everybody's jaw just dropped. She was kind of like our mascot, so everyone in ICU was so happy. It just gave us a great Christmas.”

        Asia's maternal grand mother, who also is her guardian, is the director of materials management in clinical engineering at Children's Hospital. She's heard the stories out of pediatric ICU, the heartwarming and the heartbreaking. She feels gratitude to the donor's family, whose devastation she shares. But she wants them to know what their decision has wrought.

        The decision to donate their dead baby's heart bought not just today's Christmas celebration, but an indefinite number to follow.

        So many toys, so much more time.

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