AUSTIN (KXAN) — After 23 weeks of pregnancy, Galilea Rodriguez learned life was going to be tough for her soon-to-be baby boy. At a checkup in San Antonio, a cardiologist discovered her first child was going to be born with a birth defect known as Hypoplastic Left Heart Syndrome (HLHS).

“The first thing that you ask yourself is why? Why us,” Rodriguez said, recalling the moment she learned of the diagnosis.

Eight months after he was born, baby Leo received a successful heart transplant through the pediatric heart transplant program at Dell Children’s Hospital. He’s alive and well, and after a long journey, Leo will be leaving the hospital with his family on Friday afternoon.

Hypoplastic Left Heart Syndrome

HLHS is a congenital heart defect that has an effect on normal blood flow through the heart. The left side of the heart does not form correctly during pregnancy, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Because of the known condition, Rodriguez and her husband decided to drive the four hours from their home in Del Rio, Texas to Austin. They were planning to give birth at Dell Children’s Hospital so Leo could be taken care of once he was born.

Rodriguez said she was allowed to hold her newborn baby for about five minutes after he was born before he was taken away to another room to be hooked to monitors that track his oxygen levels.

Dr. Chesney Castleberry, the medical director of heart failure and transplantation at the hospital, said the risk of traditional surgeries for Leo was too high and he would need a heart transplant.

Rodriguez could see the effect his poor heart had on him.

“Eating was just too much for him, it’s like running a marathon. He was like this is just exhausting,” Rodriguez explained.

“He only had one pumping chamber where most of us walk around with two,” Dr. Castleberry said.

Pediatric heart transplant program

The hospital started its pediatric heart transplant program started in 2020 and has already completed 22 successful heart transplants, according to the hospital.

Leo was number 20. He waited in the hospital for 269 days for his new heart. His surgery was a success and his heart pumped new life into him.

Rodriguez said Leo became a lot more active and started rolling around on his bed.

“Having fingers and toes that are warm, all of that is a really pivotal moment and something that brings us all joy,” Dr. Castleberry explained about the noticeable changes to the baby once he received his new heart.

Leo stayed in the hospital for another month to rehab from his surgery. His parents both received training on how to care for him, feed him, and administer his medicine. The hospital has given the thumbs up for Leo to leave and see the world for the first time in his young life.

“He fought really, really hard for his life. You can tell that Leo wanted to live and he did great,” Rodriguez said with a smile.