AUSTIN (KXAN) — Nearly one percent of babies in the U.S. are born with a congenital heart defect, according to the CDC, but survival rates are high because of the advanced surgeries and medicine we have available.
Beyond our borders, the birth defect takes many more lives, and for that reason, a local non-profit, HeartGift, is on a mission to help children from other countries by donating lifesaving surgeries right here in Austin.
Their most recent patient is a 5-year-old girl from China named Yujia. She has a Congenital Heart Defect.
“When she got here, we found out that a number of her muscles bringing blood back from the lungs were returning to the wrong part of her heart,” Dr. Stuart Rowe, pediatric cardiologist with Children’s Cardiology Associates says.
“Eventually this would have caused her death,” Dr. Rowe says.
Looking at the toddler, you’d never know she had major heart surgery days ago. “She’s doing great, she’s getting back up to full speed and she’s not nearly as blue or as breathless as she was previously,” Dr. Rowe says. He explains those are typical symptoms of children with CHD.
Yujia’s story is so much deeper — some call her a miracle baby. “Yujia was abandoned when she was around 1 to 2 months,” Hao Chao, a Chinese woman who accompanied the toddler from China says.
Hao Chao learned about her story through a Chinese charity. She spoke to us through a translator, Monica Chao, from a local Asian organization, Light and Salt.
“Her father is from a very small village, he doesn’t have a lot of education, so when faced with the prospect of letting Yujia come to the U.S. to do free surgery here he was very hesitant and a bit afraid,” Hao Chao said.
Hao herself was hesitant, she had only seen the toddler three times and she has a husband and children of her own. She says after telling her 8-year-old son about Yujia, she made up her mind, despite being hesitant.
“If mom doesn’t go, this little girl won’t be able to have another shot at life,” Hao said. “My son heard this and he understood and he said if you’re going to the U.S. to save this little girl’s life then I think you should go.”
A destiny thousands of miles away, part of a bigger plan for little Yujia. She was selected for heart surgery at a hospital in China, but doctors said her case was too risky and complicated. Another hospital in a nearby city also offered to do it, but family would have had to pay around $45,000.
A Chinese organization, Save Asian Souls, had heard of HeartGift before and referred Yujia and her family to Austin.
“Thanks for saving her life. She will never be a throw-away-baby again. We will follow up with her in China. She deserves a lot more than she has ever received. Her short life to this point has been horrible,” said Ron Brown with Save Asian Souls says.” Thanks to HeartGift her life will be different from now on.”