Valerie Guerin has been thinking and praying about hearts for a life very long time. When she was 20 weeks pregnant, Valerie and her husband, Mark, learned that their baby girl, Cora, was missing her entire left ventricle. The condition is known as Hypoplastic Left Heart Syndrome (HLHS).
From the moment she was born, Cora underwent multiple surgeries to enable her heart to pump enough oxygen-rich blood through her body to sustain her. Though she had a rough start in life, she thrived. She loved to run and go horseback riding, learned to play the piano, and was a wonderful big sister to her bother, Stephen, and sister, Amelie.
When Cora turned 10, it became harder for her to breathe and she was listed for a heart transplant. In spite of this, Cora continued to participate in an after-school club, Character Strides, which incorporates character building and life skills into a running program.
It was difficult for Cora to understand how she could compete in the club’s 3-mile race and still need a heart transplant. That summer Cora was in and out of the hospital and doctors were contemplating putting her on a ventricular assist device (VAD) to buy her time until a new heart became available. During that hospitalization, Cora received a heart transplant and miraculous second chance at life thanks to a charitable act by a donor family. Now 11, Cora received the gift of life nearly a year after she last ran. She’s looking forward to running again soon.
Valerie and her family live in Connecticut where she is a stay-at-home mom. She made the decision to stop working in order to devote herself to managing Cora’s care. Now the mother of three, she describes motherhood as, “The best job I’ve ever known, with three wonderful little employers and a great colleague.”
Though Cora’s heart transplant was successful, the process wasn’t easy. She endured setbacks that kept her in the hospital for over two months. Thankfully Cora’s siblings, and other family members, were able to stay close by at the Family House.
“When Cora was well enough that Mark or I could leave her bedside, we got to spend time at the Family House with Steve and Amee, which meant a lot to us,” says Valerie.
On January 11th, Cora was discharged to the Family House. “I loved the proximity to the hospital of the Family House and the fact that we could focus on Cora’s recovery there,” explains Valerie. “It was wonderful that I didn’t have to bring her to crowded public places. We appreciated the volunteers who came in to cook and those who allowed Cora to cook with them.”
Cora says she also enjoyed visits with the therapy dogs who regularly visit the Family House while her own dog, Waggles, who she rescued, waited patiently for her to return home. She and Valerie also enjoyed getting haircuts from the stylist who visited the Family House.
Adds Valerie, “The Family House is a safe, comfortable place to recuperate and a really great transition to home. We went from the structure of hospitalization to the freedom to relax — when not running to appointments.”
Four weeks after Cora came to stay at the Family House, she and her family got the good news that she could go home.
Mother and daughter have shared lots of hugs throughout the transplant journey. “I admire the way she’s always taking care of me,” says Cora.
Valerie’s wish for Mother’s Day: “That we can stay together as a family and not have to be separated again.”