BOUNTIFUL, Utah (AP) - The Stephenson family is attempting to pay forward all the kindness they received last Christmas when their 10-month-old daughter received a new heart.
Kaidence Stephenson, now 22 months old, was born healthy in February 2007, said her mother, Shauntelle Stephenson. But in August, the Bountiful family learned Kaidence had a serious heart problem.
On Dec. 23, 2007, a heart from another child was placed inside Kaidence's chest and began beating for her.
"Words can't express your feelings," said Mike Stephenson, her father. "Your child is going to get a chance at life, while at the same time grief washes over you, because a poor family had to lose a child so yours can live."
When the couple learned a heart had been found, they immediately knelt down to pray for the family whose child died.
"It is a forever bittersweet feeling," said Shauntelle Stephenson. "Another family chose to give to save you from the heartbreak of losing your child."
That family is in the Stephensons' thoughts daily as they express gratitude for being together this Christmas.
"You can't beat the Christmas gift we got last year, but we get to be together this year," Mike Stephenson said.
The Stephensons count their blessings as they look for ways to return random acts of kindness to neighbors and family members.
They said it was the community support that helped them get through the roller-coaster ride of their daughter's health problems after her heart condition was discovered.
"Meals came in every other night, after we came home until March," Shauntelle Stephenson said. "Our roof was leaking, and we came home to find our neighbors had stripped it and were putting new shingles on. Packages showed up at the doorstep, and a jar full of money with the book, 'Christmas Jar' was there one night."
Kaidence's heart problems began following a summer vacation in Idaho.
Shauntelle Stephenson took Kaidence and her sons, McCaden, now 7, and Camden, now 4, to visit family in Idaho in July 2007. Everyone came down with a stomach virus.
"A few weeks later I knew something was really wrong," she said about Kaidence.
Her daughter's cry was soft and weak, plus her cough did not sound normal. She took Kaidence to the doctor, who sent her to Lakeside Hospital in Bountiful. They sent her to Primary Children's Medical Center.
Kaidence was diagnosed with myocarditis, an inflammation of the middle layer of the heart wall, which is usually caused by a viral infection.
In October 2007, the Stephensons realized their daughter was getting worse. She was diagnosed with cardiomyopathy an enlarged heart which can be caused by myocarditis.
"She was throwing up all night," Shauntelle Stephenson said.
Doctors admitted Kaidence back in the hospital and on Oct. 29 when it looked bleak, Primary Children's medical staff installed outside of her small body a Berlin Heart, a mechanical "bridge-to-transplant" device created for use in pediatric patients. It did the pumping for the left side of Kaidence's heart, her mother said.
The hospital had to receive permission from the Food and Drug Administration to use the device for compassionate use, because the agency has not approved it.
The equipment was flown in from Germany, and two doctors also traveled from two other countries to Primary Children's to train the medical staff on how to put it in and how to care for Kaidence, Shauntelle Stephenson said.