Dec. 25, 2008 -- BOUNTIFUL, Utah (AP) - The Stephenson family is attempting topay forward all the kindness they received last Christmas whentheir 10-month-old daughter received a new heart.
Kaidence Stephenson, now 22 months old, was born healthy inFebruary 2007, said her mother, Shauntelle Stephenson. But inAugust, the Bountiful family learned Kaidence had a serious heartproblem.
On Dec. 23, 2007, a heart from another child was placed insideKaidence's chest and began beating for her.
"Words can't express your feelings," said Mike Stephenson, herfather. "Your child is going to get a chance at life, while at thesame time grief washes over you, because a poor family had to losea child so yours can live."
When the couple learned a heart had been found, they immediatelyknelt down to pray for the family whose child died.
"It is a forever bittersweet feeling," said ShauntelleStephenson. "Another family chose to give to save you from theheartbreak of losing your child."
That family is in the Stephensons' thoughts daily as theyexpress gratitude for being together this Christmas.
"You can't beat the Christmas gift we got last year, but we getto be together this year," Mike Stephenson said.
The Stephensons count their blessings as they look for ways toreturn random acts of kindness to neighbors and family members.
They said it was the community support that helped them getthrough the roller-coaster ride of their daughter's health problemsafter her heart condition was discovered.
"Meals came in every other night, after we came home untilMarch," Shauntelle Stephenson said. "Our roof was leaking, and wecame home to find our neighbors had stripped it and were puttingnew shingles on. Packages showed up at the doorstep, and a jar fullof money with the book, 'Christmas Jar' was there one night."
Kaidence's heart problems began following a summer vacation inIdaho.
Shauntelle Stephenson took Kaidence and her sons, McCaden, now7, 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," shesaid about Kaidence.
Her daughter's cry was soft and weak, plus her cough did notsound normal. She took Kaidence to the doctor, who sent her toLakeside Hospital in Bountiful. They sent her to Primary Children'sMedical Center.
Kaidence was diagnosed with myocarditis, an inflammation of themiddle layer of the heart wall, which is usually caused by a viralinfection.
In October 2007, the Stephensons realized their daughter wasgetting worse. She was diagnosed with cardiomyopathy an enlargedheart 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. 29when it looked bleak, Primary Children's medical staff installedoutside of her small body a Berlin Heart, a mechanical"bridge-to-transplant" device created for use in pediatricpatients. 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 DrugAdministration to use the device for compassionate use, because theagency has not approved it.
The equipment was flown in from Germany, and two doctors alsotraveled from two other countries to Primary Children's to trainthe medical staff on how to put it in and how to care for Kaidence,Shauntelle Stephenson said.
"Kaidence was the first one in Utah to use it," she said. Thepump was to help the infant until she became healthier or anotherheart was found for her.
Everything was going well, until the right side of her heartstarted failing in December.
The Stephensons knew they had two options: Hook a pump to theright side of the heart or hope for a heart transplant.
Now as they prepare for Christmas, the Stephensons can only talkabout how grateful they are to have their only daughter home withtheir sons this year, even though medical bills keep piling up.
"We have great insurance," Shauntelle Stephenson said. "But atransplant is a financial obligation that never ends. We pay $600 amonth in co-pay for her anti-rejection medication. Withoutinsurance it would cost us $10,000 a month."
Kaidence is at the age where she's not too sure what Christmasis all about, her parents said. Hanging up high in the tree is anornament that someday will be special to her.
The silver heart with a red-jeweled heart in the center isengraved with 2007 and for now, it is a special ornament for herparents.
Kaidence does like the lights on the tree and enjoys candycanes. Her family is not attending as many Christmas events as theyhave in the past in order to protect the tiny girl from cold andflu viruses that could easily kill her.
They have gone to church and school Christmas parties, becausethey want to show others how well she is doing.
But the downside is they worry.
"Every time someone coughs you're looking over your shoulder,trying to keep her away," Mike Stephenson said. "But everyoneelse was a part of it, supporting us and encouraging us with alltheir prayers."
Kaidence, who likes to play cars with her 4-year-old brother,has to wear a mask when she does go out. A sign on the door asksvisitors to stay away if they have a cough, runny nose or have beenaround anyone who is ill.
And there is always the worry that her body will reject the giftinside her chest.
"We live every moment the best we can," Mike Stephenson said."We'll face that stuff if and when it comes. We don't focus onthat. We just enjoy every second we got with her."
"We've been so blessed, we can't complain," ShauntelleStephenson said. "This girl has a purpose."
(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)