Community welcomes home Carmel Valley girl after heart transplant
By Kristina Houck
During a fundraiser on Oct. 12 and a party on Oct. 13, friends, family and community members gathered to support and welcome home a Carmel Valley girl who recently had a heart transplant.
“It’s unbelievable how much support we’ve received from friends, family and people we’ve never met,” said Alexa LeMoine, mother of 14-month-old Kayla Jane LeMoine. “It’s unbelievable to think how widespread the support has become.”
Kayla was 11 months old when she received a new heart on July 18 at Mattel Children’s Hospital UCLA. Born on Aug. 9, 2012, Kayla was diagnosed last spring with dilated cardiomyopathy, a condition in which the heart becomes weakened and enlarged and cannot pump blood efficiently.
A couple weeks after her nine-month check-up at the doctor’s, Alexa took her daughter to the emergency room for what seemed like a bad illness.
For about a week, Kayla was irritable, had a runny nose and a loss of appetite — all symptoms her parents attributed to a minor cold or teething. Alexa took her daughter to Rady Children’s Hospital on May 30, after she stopped nursing, had dry diapers and vomited. A chest x-ray revealed Kayla had an enlarged heart, and after a long weekend, she was flown to UCLA Medical Center to be evaluated by the pediatric cardiology team.
It was there doctors informed the couple that the walls of Kayla’s heart were too thin. She needed a heart transplant to live.
“That was the worst day of our lives,” said Kayla’s father, Todd LeMoine. Doctors also informed the couple that their daughter would need another heart transplant in about 10 years.
“We had both of those bombs dropped on us in one morning. There were a lot of tears that day.”
The family was told they could be waiting for a heart for as long as a year. Therefore, Kayla was stabilized and transferred back to Rady Children’s Hospital three weeks later. Being in San Diego made it easier for Todd to visit his daughter and work at Qualcomm. It was also easier for their 3-year-old son, Kian.
About a month later, however, a heart was available. Kayla was airlifted to UCLA while her parents drove to the medical center.
“I was just completely in shock. I didn’t really believe it,” Alexa said. “She was extraordinarily lucky to get a heart.”
“We were happy, but at the same time scared because she was about to go through this procedure and there are risks associated with the surgery,” Todd said. “You’re happy and you’re terrified at the exact same time.”
Kayla, then 11 months old, was in surgery for roughly six hours. Doctors warned Alexa and Todd it might be difficult to see their daughter intubated and sedated with an incision down her chest, but they said she was “beautiful.”
“I remember very distinctly, after she came out of surgery and she was still passed out, I put my hand on her chest,” Todd recalled. “I could feel her new heart beating.”
Kayla was hospitalized for 10 days. Doctors instructed the family to stay within one hour of UCLA for three months, so Alexa and Kayla moved into the Residence Inn in Torrance.
For three months, Kayla was given medication and monitored closely. Todd and Kian drove to Los Angeles every Thursday and drove back home Sunday night. Kayla was finally allowed to return home on Oct. 8.
Happy and healthy, Kayla is crawling and climbing. She has even taken her first steps.
“When you can’t see the incision, you think she’s just a normal kid,” Alexa said.
“She’s learning to walk, she’s talking more — all the kind of stuff that a 14-month old should be doing,” Todd said. “She’s not slowed down at all.”
Kayla still faces two major threats to her heart and health: infection and rejection.
Currently, she is taking 14 different medications, and will have to take several medications for the rest of her life.
She also has several restrictions. To avoid infection, Kayla isn’t allowed to use community swimming pools and sandboxes. She can’t eat raw foods.
But Todd says those are small things that they and their daughter can deal with.
“There will be some stuff that she’ll bump into. It may be tough at times,” Todd said. “We also know that there is this other transplant looming out there sometime in the future. It could be 10 years. Some patients have gone 20 years. But that aside, she should have a normal childhood like any other kid.”
Since the transplant, Alexa and Todd have written a letter to the family of the 10-month-old girl whose heart was donated to Kayla. They don’t know whether or not the family has read their letter. They just wanted to thank them.
“Driving up there to UCLA that night was kind of bittersweet because we knew Kayla was getting a heart, but on the other end of that, some other family was having the worst night of their life,” Todd said. “They had lost their child. They had lost their dreams. It’s hard because you feel happy. You feel so excited for your daughter, but at the same time, it’s tempered because you know that somebody else is hurting because of that.”
Alexa and Todd are also thankful for the friends, family and community members who have offered their support and held “We Got the Beat,” a concert, dinner and silent auction on Oct. 12 to benefit Children’s Organ Transplant Association in honor of Kayla. As of Oct. 15, more than $21,000 has been raised to assist with transplant-related expenses that are not covered by medical insurance.
“The outpouring of support has been completely humbling and amazing,” Todd said. “The work, the time and the energy our friends and family have committed to try and help us has been unbelievable.”
“I understand why they support us and they do everything they do,” Alexa added. “This could happen to anyone.”
For more information about Kayla and to donate, visit cotaforkaylajanel.com.
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