Home is where the heart is

Ronald McDonald greets 1-year-old A’Mijah Kingery and brother Damontez Miller, 3, at the Richmond Recycling Center during a closing ceremony celebration Thursday for Richmond’s year-long pop tab challenge to benefit the Ronald McDonald House. A’Mijah’s family stayed at the Ronald McDonald House in Lexington while she had three open-heart surgeries at UK Hospital.

Before her first birthday, A’Mijah Kingery had already undergone three open heart surgeries.

A’Mijah, who celebrated her first birthday on April 16, had two open heart surgeries during the first 12 days of her life and a third one last month.

Her mother, Caycie Kingery, 25, gave birth to A’Mijah via C-section at Patti A. Clay Regional Medical Center, and Caycie’s mother, Angie, was given the honors of cutting the umbilical cord.

As Angie was carrying A’Mijah to her mother, they realized something was wrong.

“She was turning blue and her crying was really faint,” Angie said. “I was freaking out, but I didn’t know what was going on.”

Almost immediately, A’Mijah began losing oxygen.

Specialists were brought in and A’Mijah was rushed to the University of Kentucky Chandler Medical Center.

It turned out she suffers from transposition of the great arteries, in which the aorta and pulmonary artery are reversed, which causes red blood to go to the lungs and blue blood to go the body, according to americanheart.org.

In this condition, the red blood, which has the most oxygen, goes to the wrong place and the lack of oxygen can cause severe damage to the heart muscle.

When A’Mijah was six days old, doctors performed her first open heart surgery.

After a blood clot formed in A’Mijah’s neck, doctors were forced to perform a second open heart surgery.

The surgery was a success, but A’Mijah remained in the hospital until May 21, 2009.

Over the past year, doctors have kept an eye on A’Mijah, but because she is too little for a stint, a third open heart surgery was required on March 30.

“We’re hoping and praying that what they did will work,” Caycie said. “It’s been stressful, but it’s made me a stronger person and a stronger mother.”

A’Mijah’s brother, Damontez, now 3, had to wait several weeks to meet his baby sister in person, but when he did, he sized up the situation as only a child can.

“He said ‘Jesus is going to fix Sissy’s heart because it’s broke’,” Angie said.

During A’Mijah’s stay at UK Hospital, her family remained nearby at the Ronald McDonald House, which has 20 guest rooms, free laundry and a free shuttle service, said Sarah Warner, executive director of the Ronald McDonald House Charities of the Bluegrass.

“One of the programs that we organize is we provide a home away from home for families that need a place to stay while their loved ones receive medical care in Lexington,” Warner said.

“The Kingerys stayed with us the entire time they were with A’Mijah,” she said. “You don’t want to be that far away from your baby when your baby’s in an intensive care situation.”

Having her friends and family close by, and staying with other families who were going through similar struggles, made the process easier, said Caycie

“I had a great support team,” she said. “I would never have made it without them.”

The Kingery family seemed to find friendly caring faces everywhere they turned, getting a nice surprise from the shuttle driver, a woman named Julie Lilley, who used her artistic skills to draw a handful of pictures of A’Mijah and other family members, giving the family the pictures free of charge.

During the past 12 months, the Ronald McDonald House teamed up with the city of Richmond and Madison County Schools to participate in a pop tab collection to raise money to benefit the Ronald McDonald House, paying for general items for guests such as toothpaste, groceries and deodorant.

On Thursday, the participants of the pop tab challenge, along with the Kingery family, met at the Richmond Recycling Center for a closing ceremony celebration.

Warner called the year-long project the largest the local Ronald McDonald House have been associated with.

While several schools participated, Glenn Marshall Elementary School raised the most pop tabs, collecting 831,300.

The school was to receive $500 to use toward a project of their choice.

“They taught us a lesson to keep giving to help others,” Madison County Schools superintendent Tommy Floyd said of the pop tab collections.

During the ceremony, the Ronald McDonald House presented the Richmond Montessori School $300 to buy a new computer.

Ronald McDonald also was on hand to entertain children with his magic tricks.

To follow A’Mijah’s story on the Internet, go to www.caringbridge.org/ visit/amijahshealingheart/journal.

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