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.”