I especially love this cover page of Dann's Facebook that says, "I am special… not broken". This year's Valentine's day is indeed very special for Julia and her parents. Valentines day marks the day that Julia received her newly repaired heart. I was exchanging text messages with Dann last night greeting her happy wishes for Julia's heart anniversary. Dann replied back saying she ended Julia's day by saying a prayer to God for the wonderful gift of healing He gave our happy Julia and that she couldn't help her tears from falling down. I was so touched and almost into tears myself. Indeed, God is wonderfully merciful and good.
Julia was diagnosed with Atrial Septal Defect, one of the known 35 Congenital Heart Defects. She was diagnosed when Julia was 4. Like any mother's reaction, Dann couldn't help crying and shaking uncontrollably when she heard of the doctor's diagnosis. The good thing about it was that it can be repaired via surgery. However, the amount was so huge. As Dann described it, "I don't think we could even find even if we work for 5 years!!" That night, Dann couldn't sleep even if she tried to close her eyes. She knew she had to do something. So she grabbed the computer, searched online for charities and foundations who could help her daughter. She just kept sending letter to each one that she found whispering a prayer before sending it. It was a routine she did every night.
Her prayers were answered when she heard from HeartGift Foundation. HeartGift is a foundation that sponsors lifesaving surgeries for children from developing countries. Dann was very quick in completing the needed requirements by HeartGift. In February 2012, Dann and Julia were on their way to New Orleans, Lousiana for the surgery. Even during their travel to the US, Julia captured the hearts of so many strangers in the different places where they stopped by. She was entertaining them most of the time with her poems and songs. Julia is a very sweet girl with positive attitude. Dann had to be strong especially infront of her. Julia was very excited for her surgery. She wanted to be normal like any other kid who can freely jump, run, and play without limit. For the whole 36 hours of travel, Dann kept God in her prayers.
Dann and Julia were welcomed by their host family, the Sundrud Family. Julia was prepped for surgery at Children's Hospital New Orleans Lousiana or CHNOLA. Dann remembered the strong support group she had before, during, and after the surgery. Her strong support were from Fil Am Community of New Orleans, Bippo's Place and Smiles, Clair Koch and Family, HeartGift Foundation - Lousiana Charter director Stephanie Berault's family and friends, and from Dr. Caspi's Medical Team. Prayer groups, prayer text brigades, and holy masses were set up by St. Margaret Mary School of Slidell. Even their family and friends in the Philippines were praying. A few days before the surgery, a strong earthquake hit Dann's hometown at Guihulngan Negros Oriental. Her family was affected and even slept on the street and in tents for more than 10 days. Even the earthquake could not stop Dann's family from praying for Julia's complete healing. They remained strong in faith.
Julia turned 5 on February 9. The date of surgery was February 13 (February 14 in the Philippines). Dr. Caspi, as the surgeon, headed the medical team. Including pre-op, Julia only stayed in the hospital for 6 days. In no time, Julia was smiling and singing again. Dann is very grateful to all the angels involved in saving Julia's life.
This week Julia just celebrated her 6th year birthday. She celebrated it with Special Kids who also deserve love and affection. Truly, Julia is a very sweet girl. I remember meeting her for the first time. She sang so beautifully like her mom. They are both so musically inclined.
The Villarata couple is one of the core members of Let It Echo group. Let It Echo is a non-profit organization consisting of heart parents and individuals who have gone through the ordeal of having children with congenital heart defect/s. We are warriors, survivors, and storytellers who provide hope and support to ailing CHD-stricken Filipino families through empowerment, education, and counsel.
CHD is something we can truly win over. We cannot do it without you. We urge you to help and contribute in saving sick kids. To know more how to help, please visit Let It Echo Facebook page.