TORRINGTON – As far as Torrington resident Jenn Marsden-Garcia knew, she was pregnant with a growing, healthy baby. In the fall of 2017, however, at 37 weeks along, her daughter entered the world at four pounds – two pounds less than doctors expected – and not breathing.
Fortunately, Izabella Nicole’s respiratory system kicked in, but doctors recommended a life-flight to Rocky Mountain Hospital for Children in Denver, Colo.
“I wasn’t prepared – I didn’t know I was going to have her that day,” Marsden-Garcia recalled. “They decided they’d better get her out because of her abnormal activity. She wasn’t moving around as much as she should.”
Izabella was diagnosed with hypoplastic left heart syndrome – a congenital (present at birth) defect that affects normal blood flow through the heart. She spent five days in the neonatal intensive care unit before undergoing the first of three planned heart surgeries: the Norwood procedure takes place shortly after birth; the Bi-directional Glenn Operation, which occurs at around six months of age; and the Fontan Operation, scheduled approximately 18 to 36 months after the Glenn Operation.
“(The surgery) was successful. It went perfectly,” Marsden-Garcia said. “She continued medications, had good days and bad days, and then basically when they moved her to the room to go home, she started getting worse.”
Izabella had contracted meningitis and died at just 27 days old.
“We spent a beautiful evening together the night before she passed, just me and her,” Marsden-Garcia said. “She was baptized by a Catholic priest and a Christian priest, then a little bit later, the doctor and I let her go.
“It’s hard, but at the end of the day I have to be strong for my little boy,” she continued. “I’m kind of the rock for my family.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate 960, or one in every 4,344 babies, will be born with hypoplastic left heart syndrome in the U.S. Congenital heart defects affect nearly 1 percent, or 40,000, babies nationwide every year – 25 percent of which are critical congenital heart defects, including hypoplastic left heart syndrome.
During American Heart Month, Marsden-Garcia said raising awareness for her daughter’s condition, as well as other heart issues, is of the utmost importance.
“Friday, Feb. 1 is ‘Wear Red Day’ to raise awareness for all heart disease,” she said. “My son’s school (Lincoln Elementary) has agreed to wear red; my work (Diversified Services, Inc.) is going to do it. I’d love to get the community involved, too.”
Residents are encouraged to post photos of themselves wearing red this Friday on social media, and tag Marsden-Garcia if possible.
“My main thing is to spread awareness – you might think it won’t happen to you, but it could,” she said. “Till the day I die, I’m going to fight for heart conditions just for her.”
Marsden-Garcia also started the Peace Of My Heart Bereaved Parents Support Group, which serves the Wyo-Braska area. Interested residents may email [email protected] for more information. Membership is free.