LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) - It’s been quite a first year of life for Stella Paul.
The little girl who is quick with a smile was born in November of 2017. Her parents knew that her heart muscle was thick and it was something to keep an eye on.
But two days after Christmas, Stella’s breathing was rapid and her parents knew something needed immediate attention.
They rushed her by car to the hospital. By the time they reached Norton Women’s and Children’s Hospital, Stella was in cardiac arrest.
The medical staff transferred Stella to Norton Children’s Hospital by ambulance, where she went into cardiac arrest again upon arrival.
“She was given 75 minutes of CPR,” Stella’s mother, Mari-Elise Paul, remembered. “(I) cried, prayed and just hoped she would make it. And just hoped those doctors would do the best they could for her. And they did.”
Stella was put on ECMO, which is a heart and lung machine for seven days.
The neurologist gave them devastating news - that she didn’t have any brain activity. The Paul’s were told it wouldn’t be a “wrong decision to remove her from life support.”
The Paul's refused to give up hope.
“I just kept firmly saying ‘she’s going to be fine, she’s going to recover,'" her mother said.
She did improve. And at eight weeks of age, Stella had open heart surgery to put a band around her pulmonary artery.
Again, Stella was allowed to go home. But she didn’t seem right.
Doctors discovered her heart was failing. She had a condition called Left Ventricular Non-Compaction Cardiomyopathy, meaning the left side of her heart hadn’t formed correctly.
She was put on a list for a heart transplant and received the transplant on July 23, 2018.
Her recovery took some time. In total, Stella spent 230 days in the hospital.
“Tough seems like a trivial word, but there’s no other word for it,” Stella’s father, Bruce Paul, said.
Finally, on Oct. 4, Stella joined her family again at home.
”It’s wonderful to be home," Mari-Elise Paul said. "Because we really didn’t know if we would be able to be home with her again.”
Stella is now part of the Bravehearts group at the hospital, made up of congenital heart defect survivors. A pillow with the group’s name sits prominently in the crib in her nursery.
"Our baby is still alive. Our baby is still here,” Bruce Paul said.
This year the money raised from the Norton Children’s Hospital Home & BMW Raffle will benefit the Jennifer Lawrence Cardiac Intensive Care Unit at the hospital. This will be a state-of-the-art unit slated for completion in 2019.
The Paul’s have committed to raising $50,000 for a nurse’s lounge to go in the new unit. They have already raised $12,000.
“We are so grateful - grateful beyond words for the care and the people at Norton Children’s Hospital," Mari-Elise Paul said. "If it weren’t for them, Stella wouldn’t be here.”
Stella will need to be monitored for the rest of her life. In the near term, she will have a lot of lab work done to check on possible rejection of the heart. But now that Stella is home, their hearts are whole again.
“It’s great! We really can’t get angry when she cries or when she’s up at night because there were so many days we couldn’t hold her. She couldn’t cry. There were days that we didn’t know if she was going to have a voice,” Mari-Elise Paul said. “Gives us a whole new perspective. You don’t take any day for granted.”