Great heart

Faith and technology mean life for 5-year-old girl

Fairfield Daily Republic ©

FAIRFIELD - Twenty weeks into her pregnancy, 27-year-old Dawnielle Rowley was told her unborn baby was developing with half a heart on the right side of her chest.

She was at home when she received the call from her doctor, the day following her sonogram, and was told to sit down before hearing the news. The words she heard continue to sting, the memory of that day still vivid.

For weeks, Rowley cried every day, overwhelmed by uncertainty yet driven by faith.

She remembers the doctors couldn't offer an explanation but did suggest a solution - she had the option of aborting. She was told it was "not too late."

"That's not what I wanted. This is my child and I'm going to try my best to get through this pregnancy," Rowley said in a soft voice. "They kept telling me she has a major heart defect, but I wanted to go through this."

On Dec. 8, 2001, Rowley gave birth to Jayda, who weighed 8 pounds 11 ounces. She was born with a congenital heart defect and a single ventricle, which led to blue baby syndrome, a discoloration of the skin resulting from insufficient oxygen in the blood.

"Soon after they took Jayda to the neonatal unit, I was asked if I wanted her to come back down so that Jayda could pass away in my arms," she recalled. But Rowley and her husband Vincent refused.
Within the hour, Jayda Rowley was whisked to Children's Hospital and Research Center Oakland, where the family was given hope for Jayda's survival.

"The cardiologist said that it would be a long road with a lot of surgeries but they believed it could be done. They were very positive," Rowley recalled.

Jayda spent the first two months of her life in the intensive care unit at Children's Hospital, pinched by needles and engulfed in a blanket of medical tubes. At four months old, the infant had her second open-heart surgery.

For the next five years, Jayda would endure five heart and four stomach/intestinal surgeries, more than the average person would have in a life span. She is expected to have a normal life.

But for Jayda, a young girl with princess dreams, the scars still remain.

"She's very outgoing, but other kids her age have not been through those things and don't know the fear," her mother said. "She could be in the park, on top of the slide and then start crying. She knows fear. She knows what fear is."


The Discovery Zone Preschool on Canterbury Street, owned and run by Jayda's aunt, Rene Rhoades, resounds with laughter, voices and Jayda Rowley.

Her dynamic demeanor is infectious, affecting the other five children, who play or dance inside the "Romper Room" setting. Yet the scars that dwell beneath Jayda's pretty pink shirt, the markings of her past surgeries which run at least eight inches long, remain hidden behind the vibrant smile.

"I worry about her because she has major physical issues," Rhoades said of her niece. "She'll always have half a heart and she's not a recipient for a heart transplant.

"You hear about people with a heart condition and they drop dead. And then I wonder if that will happen to her. You always worry about it."

On a wall inside the preschool, where this month's theme is fire safety, hang several fictitious stories dictated to Rhoades by the six curious children. And one is from Jayda:

"Disneyland got on fire and me and Jesh (a cousin) ran and I died. Jesh was saving my life but he didn't. Everybody ran and all the policemen came and got me and then I came back to life and everyone said, 'Yippee!' "

Baby blue

Jayda Rowley was born with the most severe case of Blue Baby Syndrome, according to her cardiologist Dr. Kishor Avasarala of Children's Hospital Oakland.

"When she was born, she was intensely blue because there was a mixing of red and blue blood in her heart," he said and explained the five surgeries, each taking up to five hours, helped to rectify the problems.

"I'm hoping she had her last surgery. She's doing very well, oxygen numbers are normal, like ours, and she's physically active," he said. The 5-year-old will continue to take four medications daily for life, he added.

But Jayda's outcome may have been different more than a decade ago.

According to Avasarala, children were dying from congenital heart defects because hospitals didn't have the proper technology.

Today, however, survival numbers have jumped to 90 percent due to advances and research in medicine.

"The way we do surgery and the techniques have changed throughout the years, but we're still learning. It's only been 10 years," he said.

Jayda, who has three siblings - Sharmel, Maleasha and Tyler - will still ask if a doctor or nurse will "hurt her" during check-ups and will still fear her trips to the hospital.

And she knows there is "something" wrong with her heart, Rowley said, but the family does its best to put on a smile and move forward.

"I tell everyone it's amazing, that everything she went through, all those wires and tubes, she made it," Rowley said. "She's OK."