Caitlin Veitz lay on the operating table, anxious to see her tiny daughter, Kieran, who had just entered the world via emergency C-section. "I saw a glimpse of her face as they walked her by," Caitlin writes on a Facebook page devoted to Kieran. "I didn't know if I'd see her alive again." Kieran was born with a rare congenital heart defect, ectopia cordis, which causes the heart to develop outside the chest wall.
Caitlin and her husband, Brian, learned about the condition at an ultrasound appointment during Caitlin's 20th week of pregnancy. "We didn't have any idea that anything like that could happen," Caitlin told Sharing Mayo Clinic in 2015. "It was scary. The odds were stacked against her."
Doctors in the Veitzes' home state of North Dakota recommended the couple head to Mayo Clinic's Rochester campus. Kieran would need complex, specialized surgery to survive. In Rochester, Caitlin and Brian met with cardiovascular surgeon Joseph Dearani, M.D. Dr. Dearani was hopeful he and his colleagues could help the family. "We wanted to give this kid a shot, and we had a chance of giving the family and the child a realistic hope," he recently told NBC's "Today."
Dr. Dearani assembled a team of teams to care for Kieran, bringing together experts from maternal and fetal medicine, ENT, neonatal intensive care and cardiac surgery. The team also included radiologists who developed a 3D model of Kieran to give surgeons "a vivid understanding of Kieran's anatomy in advance" so they could carefully plan the surgery. Those plans were moved up a few days before Caitlin's scheduled C-section, when her blood pressure rose and Kieran's vital signs weakened. Delivery couldn't wait.
"Over 60 doctors and nurses from 12 different specialty teams … came together in an hour and a half to get Kieran into the world as smoothly as possible," Caitlin tells "Today." Immediately after Kieran's arrival, Dr. Dearani and his colleagues were able to put her heart back where it belonged.
That heart is powering Kieran through numerous milestones, including learning to walk. Those first steps came a bit later for Kieran than for many children, since she "still experiences physical delays because of all the time she spent on a ventilator and her lack of muscle mass," reports the Daily Mail. But she's right on track with some other milestones. At nearly 3, she has a toddler's stubborn streak, her parents tell the publication. It's a slice of normal life they'll forever be grateful for. "We kind of thought it was over before we could even begin," Caitlin tells "Today." Instead, Kieran is "going to grow up. She's going to do everything anyone else gets to do."
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, congenital heart defects affect almost 1 percent of the babies born each year in the United States. You can learn more here. Then leave a comment below before using the social media tools atop this page to share this story with others.