Georgia family thankful for daughter's 'warrior' heart

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Mary Beth Keeling and her family are finally, gratefully, in a good place.

Her daughter Kinsley has a new heart, and she's healthy for the first time in her young life.

"She's amazing," Mary Beth Keeling says. "She's just developing so well. She feels great, she plays, just like a normal 3-year old."

When Keeling first sat down with us to share Kinsley's story back in September, she described what it was like when she and her husband Micah brought home their second daughter in the fall of 2014, before the bottom dropped out.

"She was an amazingly beautiful little 5-pound baby in November, and we took her home with her big sister and had a glorious 10 days as a family of 4," Keeling remembers."

Then, Kinsley suddenly stopped nursing.

Tests showed she'd picked up a stomach virus, which should not have been a big deal.

"But because she was just so tiny and had zero immune system as an infant, it just went wild in her body," her mom says. The virus attacked Kinsley's tiny heart, causing it, almost overnight, to falter.

"We took her to the emergency room, where she was put in the trauma bay," Keeling says. "We were there for 35 days."

That was the beginning of two and half years of twists and turns.

Shored up by medication, Kinsley's heart stabilized. But as she grew, it faltered again.

Last spring, Kinsley, by then age 2, landed in the cardiac intensive care unit at Children's Healthcare of Atlanta at Egleston. Surgeons attached a Berlin heart pump to shore up her weakened heart, and she was placed on a transplant waiting list. July 31, 2017, after 3 months of waiting, a donor heart came through for Kinsley. That gift, Mary Beth Keeling says, changed everything.

"We are just incredibly grateful to be home together as a family," Keeling says. "We find the purest joy in just sitting quietly and watching our daughters play together and laugh."

The couple is thankful for everyone who played a part in Kinsley's journey.

"First and foremost (we're thankful for) the amazing donor family, who made an incredible choice to gift a warrior heart to Kinsley, that has been a magnificent match for her and has given her life again," Keeling says.

The Keelings are grateful, too, for Kinsley's big sister Campbell.

"Campbell talks regularly about how excited she is that her sister got a new heart," Keeling says.  "And, that a 5-year old expresses herself that way, and correlates Kinsley being here and having so much fun with her with the gift that the donor gave Kinsley so graciously, is really powerful to Campbell. She completely gets it and celebrates it with us regularly."

The Keelings will celebrate their Thanksgiving at home, with Kinsley, whose journey taught them what it means to be thankful.

"We enjoy every little moment," Mary Beth Keeling says. "We cherish all the little things."