“I think when any person is trying to have a family and have a child, you have this idea of how it’s all going to go,” said Lindsay Gauger, Gemma’s mom.
Lindsay and Steve Gauger were thrilled they were bringing a baby girl into the world and growing their family to four. But then something unexpected happened.
“Her heart was a lightning strike on a clear sunny day,” Lindsay said.
During the 32nd week of pregnancy, they were told their baby had a congenital heart defect known as hypoplastic left heart syndrome - or HLHS.
“There was nothing we did. Nothing we could have done to prevent it, stop it, fix it,” Lindsay said.
Baby Gemma was born in August of 2014 with an underdeveloped left side to her heart. Gemma was only 3-days-old when she had her first open heart surgery. The second surgery happened nearly six months later.
Shortly after, she got sick, which led to her suffering sudden cardiac arrest in her father’s arms.
Doctors performed 25 chest compressions and she nearly lost an arm from all the injections.
“At that point, her heart was damaged enough where we started to talk about the transplant process,” Steve said.
That talk turned to reality in September 2015 when Gemma was put on a heart transplant list.
Four months later, on New Year’s Eve, the Gauger family was told there’s a match. Gemma received her transplant on New Year’s Day.
“The hypoplastic road was over because that heart was gone and now the new heart was in,” Steve said.
Gemma started anti-rejection doses which will continue for the rest of her life.
But Gemma is living life to its fullest. She attends school, goes to speech therapy, and gets to enjoy activities with big brother Gavin. She even goes to dance class, following in her mother’s footsteps.
“So knowing this dance studio gave us this opportunity for her to do something that I enjoy. It was huge. It meant so much to me,” Lindsay said.
Gemma’s parents describe her as sassy, beautiful, and strong.
They want to spread awareness of heart health.
“It was something that we never knew existed until they sat us down and said, ‘your daughter has HLHS.’ I remember thinking, ‘what?’ Like, how can your child be missing a ventricle cord on their heart? It’s just not talked about,” Lindsay said.
The Gaugers are not out of the woods yet with Gemma’s health, but they are thankful for family, friends, doctors, and their support system.
“You just have to take it day by day and make the most of it because there is no guarantee what tomorrow will bring,” Lindsay said.
Gemma is getting used to her new heart, but as a result, Lindsay said she will most likely need a kidney transplant in the future.