From the Alemeda Times-Star in California:
HAYWARD — With a new heart and a new lease on life, Hayward resident Natalie Reyes, 15, took a week off school to live it up in Hawaii, courtesy of the Make-A-Wish Foundation.
A year ago, Natalie and her family weren't sure how much longer she had to live — and snorkeling in Hawaii was the last thing on their minds.
Last spring, Natalie regularly felt fatigued. At a checkup in April, her doctor said she might have asthma, and he also referred her to a cardiologist for a heart murmur.
Then one day when Natalie came home from school, she thought her feet looked a little funny. "I just noticed that my feet looked really fat," she said. "They were really big and poofy. Later on, I showed my parents. For some reason, my dad knew something was wrong."
Her father, Luis Reyes, saw her swollen feet and legs and took her to Kaiser Permanente Hospital in Hayward, where she was diagnosed with restrictive cardiomyopathy, a serious heart condition in which the heart muscle weakens and struggles to pump blood.
"The doctor said there was no cure and that she would require a heart transplant," Luis Reyes said.
Natalie spent stints at Kaiser in Hayward and Santa Clara as her condition deteriorated.
"Things progressed rapidly," Luis Reyes said. Weight loss, fluid buildup in her body and the constant medication were difficult to witness, he said.
The swelling became so uncomfortable that Natalie had to be propped up with three pillows so she could sleep, Luis Reyes explained.
Breathing and walking became difficult, Natalie said.
On July 1, Natalie was sitting on her living room couch watching her brother Jerome, 10, playing video games with a friend when the phone rang.
Her father answered and got nervous, Natalie recalled. "We got in the car, and he was kind of excited and kind of tense," she said.
Natalie was taken to the Lucile Packard Children's Hospital in Palo Alto, where the next morning she was given a new heart. She recovered from the operation at the Ronald McDonald House in Palo Alto, and 21/2 months after receiving her new heart, she was back in school in Hayward.
The Reyeses only know that the heart donor was a girl in her teens.
Natalie wrote the donor's family a thank-you letter. "I told them I'm really thankful for what they did and how much I appreciate it," Natalie said.
While she was at the hospital, a social worker forwarded Natalie's name to the Make-A-Wish Foundation. "Natalie's physician confirmed that her medical condition did indeed meet our criteria," Make-A-Wish spokeswoman Elaine Kauffman said.
Natalie was granted one wish.
"Wishes can be anything from a puppy to a trip to the Super Bowl," Kauffman said. "We grant whatever the child wishes for, within reason.
"That means no such wishes as car insurance for life, which parents might like, but plenty of trips to Disneyland, new computers and shopping sprees."
Natalie's wish was to take her family back to Hawaii, where she had been once before and had a great time. So how was her trip the second time around?
"It was awesome," she said. "It was relaxing, and I did a lot of things I didn't think I could do."
Natalie looked into an active volcano, explored the inside of a lava tube, went snorkeling, took a helicopter ride, went to a luau and did a lot of shopping. "I loved it," she said.
She returned from her week on the big island of Hawaii on Saturday and is now back in school.
The Make-A-Wish Foundation funds wishes from in-kind gifts and services; financial contributions from individuals, corporations, clubs and other groups; special events, and car donations, according to the foundation's Web site.
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