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Heart surgery helps 3-year-old Gia enjoy life with her adoptive mom

After Heather Lavell adopted her daughter Gia from China, she turned to University of Minnesota Pediatric Heart Center experts to correct Gia’s aortic coarctation—a congenital heart defect.
After being diagnosed with aortic coarctation, 3-year-old Gia Lavell (right) underwent surgery to repair her heart at the Pediatric Heart Center at University of Minnesota Masonic Children's Hospital. Today, Gia’s heart is functioning well, she is growing taller and stronger and she has nonstop energy.
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3-year-old Gia loves “Frozen” and “Minions,” sandboxes and Play-Doh, music and new words. But most of all, she loves her new life with her mom, Heather Lavell.

In 2015, Lavell decided to adopt a child with special needs from China. The first photos and videos she received were of Gia, and Lavell felt an instant connection. Gia, a little dynamo, had already overcome enormous challenges during her young life, including infant abandonment, three years of foster care and heart-related health problems.

Before adopting Gia, Lavell wanted a better understanding of the toddler’s health issues and how she could help.

Lavell turned to Adoption Medicine Physician Judith Eckerle, MD, at the University of Minnesota Health Adoption Medicine Clinic. Eckerle referred Lavell to University of Minnesota Health Pediatric Cardiologist Rebecca Ameduri, MD, who noted that doctors in China had initially diagnosed Gia with myocarditis. The disease, she told Lavell, inflames and damages the heart. It could improve on its own—or it could become worse. Both physicians assured Lavell that Gia could get the medical care she needed through the University of Minnesota Health Pediatric Heart Center—no matter her heart condition.

Learn more about our Adoption Medicine Clinic services.

“To hear that Gia’s condition could be improved when she got here and that the medical resources were available [for her] gave me the confidence to say yes to adoption,” said Lavell, who traveled to China in August 2015 to adopt her daughter.

After a month of bonding, Lavell brought Gia to meet Ameduri, who discovered that Gia had been misdiagnosed with myocarditis. Instead, Ameduri diagnosed the toddler with aortic coarctation—a narrowing of the aorta. Because of the condition, Gia’s heart had been working overtime since birth to pump oxygen-rich blood to her body. In the United States, infants with this heart defect typically have corrective surgery immediately after birth.

Learn more about the Pediatric Heart Center at University of Minnesota Masonic Children’s Hospital.

Just a few days after the diagnosis, Gia underwent surgery at University of Minnesota Masonic Children’s Hospital. Her surgical care team repaired her heart using a minimally invasive incision under Gia’s left shoulder blade. As frightened as she was for Gia, Lavell felt great confidence in the M Health medical team.

Today, Gia’s heart is functioning well, she is growing taller and stronger and she has nonstop energy.

“Gia has a zest for life to try everything, do everything,” said Lavell. “It makes me so happy that we were connected. I can’t even imagine her not being able to live out her life to the max.”

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