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Going the extra mile for children

5K Walk for Kids will benefit the Ronald McDonald House Charities, which help families like the Papas from Costa Mesa.

April 05, 2013|By Rhea Mahbubani
  • The start of the 2012 Walk for Kids event benefiting Ronald McDonald House Charities of Southern California.
The start of the 2012 Walk for Kids event benefiting Ronald… (Photo by JUAN OCAMPO )

Julieanne Papa noticed something odd during her 18-week ultrasound in late March 2011.

It looked like her baby's heart had only two chambers.

"Aren't there supposed to be four?" the Costa Mesa mother of two asked the technician.

The following day, a high-risk ultrasound revealed that Julieanne and Tyrus Papa's child suffered from a congenital defect called hypoplastic left heart syndrome.

"I tried really hard not to cry because I wanted all of the information the doctor was going to give me," said Julieanne Papa, 36. "But the second I stepped out of those doors and into the parking lot, I put my glasses on and the tears started going."

She began researching the rare condition in which the left ventricle is severely underdeveloped and started surrounding herself with a strong medical team.

Brooklyn was born Aug. 18 at St. Joseph Hospital — a day before her parents' wedding anniversary so "she could have her own birthday," Julieanne Papa said.

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She was immediately transferred to the Children's Hospital Orange County and underwent open-heart surgery five days later. But even though her health progressed steadily for two weeks and there was talk of her being discharged soon, Brooklyn died at 3:49 a.m. Sept. 1.

"It was devastating," Papa said. "I asked if I could hold her. We spent time alone with her and then started calling my family."

Looking back on the short time she shared with her daughter, Papa is grateful that she stayed mere steps from the hospital at the Orange County Ronald McDonald House.

On Sunday, she will join thousands of local residents at the Honda Center, in Anaheim, and participate in a 5K Walk for Kids to raise funds for and awareness of the Ronald McDonald House Charities of Southern California.

"I had absolutely no idea that Brooklyn was going to pass — we were all so confident because she was doing so well," Papa said. "So if I had spent less time with her, I would regret it. I think the biggest thing that the Ronald McDonald House gave me was proximity to her so I could spend all of my time with her."

The family paid $10 for every night spent in one of the facility's 20 rooms and had access to public computers, a common area and a kitchen. Mindful of the fact that she got a meal without having to drive a half-hour and was able to spend time with her family while also being on hand for Brooklyn's doctors' rounds, Papa said her family decided to continue serving the Ronald McDonald House.

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