It was a Christmas miracle for the Botelho family. Their 4-year-old Gemma had been hospitalized and was nearing the end when a bunch of prayers left doctors scratching their heads and her parents, Alex and Lejla, with warm and grateful hearts.
Gemma is now breathing on her own and is able to speak for the first time in nine days. She had been in an induced coma after the flu left her weak and sick in the hospital with a heart that was no longer doing what it was supposed to do.
At first, her parents didn’t think much of her flu-like symptoms. They began treating her with medicine and the next day she was well enough to attend and perform in her school play. She went to school the next couple days but shortly after, her symptoms returned and worsened quickly. Her hands and feet were cold and a rash appeared. Alex and Lejla knew something just wasn’t right, so they brought her to the emergency room. Lejla said:
“I thought the flu — you have a cough and cold and you stay home for two days. It didn’t cross my mind it could lead to something this serious.”
Following their gut reaction may have saved Gemma’s life. They ran tests at the hospital to see what was going on inside Gemma and found that the flu had attacked her heart muscles.
On December 17, Gemma went into cardiac arrest. The hospital staff went into overdrive and continued doing CPR on her for 45 minutes. It was a nightmare for the Botelho family and one that didn’t end there. The CPR just wasn’t working. Gemma’s heart wouldn’t start. Lejla said:
“We heard beeping, and then no beeping. She was just flatlining. We really felt that we had lost her.”
Doctors immediately took further action and Dr. Robert Hannan put her on life support. The prognosis for Gemma kept getting worse and worse. Hannan informed the family that Gemma might need a heart transplant, which wasn’t something that they could do at Nicklaus.
Come Friday, he hopped into a helicopter with Gemma. They made their way to All Childrens Hospital John Hopkins Medicine in St. Petersburg. Alex and Lejla flew themselves over on a commercial flight the same day and the waiting began. On the Sunday before Christmas, the couple decided to reach out to friends and family and ask for prayers.
Catholic Masses in Argentina, Italy, Miami and Boston all said a prayer on Sunday and it was that same evening that Gemma’s little heart began beating on its own again. Alex said:
“It’s beyond belief. Everyone here at the hospital — their spirits are lifted. They said they live for moments like this because the odds were 99% against her.”
Two days later pediatric heart surgeon, Dr. Jeffrey Jacobs, decided that Gemma’s heart was working well enough to remove her from life support. The staff at All Childrens Hospital were blown away. Jacobs said:
“I think she’s going to make a great recovery. A month from now this is going to be a little bump in the road.”
Wishing all the best in the coming months of recovery for Gemma.