Gilbert baby girl Bela Milne slept soundly in her tiny hospital bed Tuesday as her mom smiled.
"She is a little angel, my miracle angel," said her 23-year-old mom, Avery Milne, as she showed the scar on her daughter's chest. "The fact that she's here is incredible. She's here to bless people."
Born Feb. 29 with severe congenital heart disease - hypoplastic left heart syndrome and Turner syndrome - Bela had a lot to overcome. She was just 7 days old when she underwent a new hybrid surgery to repair her rare heart defect.
It's a procedure offered at St. Joseph's Hospital and Medical Center, and is the first of three surgeries needed to repair Bela's heart, which is now the size of a walnut.
"She's doing amazing, way better than anyone expected," Milne said.
It's the second time doctors have performed this type of surgery at the hospital, which is based on existing technology applied in a new way, said Dr. John Nigro, director of the Scott and Laura Eller Congenital Heart Center at St. Joseph's.
"This utilizes open-heart surgery and interventional cardiology techniques for a hybrid approach," Nigro said.
The new procedure replaces one of a series of risky operations to repair hypoplastic left heart syndrome, in which the left ventricle is too small and affects the mitral valve, aortic valve and aorta.
St. Joseph's is one of just a few centers in the country that performs this type of procedure.
Nigro credited the success of Bela's procedure with the cooperation and collaboration of several departments at the hospital. Nigro worked with Dr. Stephen Pophal, the director of pediatric cardiology at the Eller Congenital Heart Center.
Bela was delivered at the hospital, and even before she was born, doctors had a plan in place. Bela's heart defect was discovered during the fetal screening ultrasound when her mother was 20 weeks pregnant.
Milne had never heard of either of Bela's conditions, and at the time, doctors couldn't tell her what would happen. She could find no data and no numbers on survival rates.
"It was just overwhelming," Milne said. "I cried for two weeks."
From 20 weeks on, she had appointments every week. From 32 weeks on, she visited her doctor twice a week. From 36 weeks on, she was visiting the doctor every other day.
At first Milne and her husband, Tanner, thought they were going to have to move to find a hospital to treat their daughter's rare conditions. The two were "so relieved" to discover St. Joseph's offered the procedure. Bela will undergo her second operation when she's about 6 months old, and her third when she's between 2 and 3 years old.
Nigro said Bela will be able to go home this week, much sooner than if she had the typical open-heart surgery.
"Our goal is to provide her with the ability to live with this problem and to have a good, quality life," said Nigro, adding that one in 100 are born with severe congenital heart disease.