For any family, the aftermath of childbirth should be a time of uncomplicated happiness. As Joni Schrantz and Cole Gelrod can attest, this isn’t always the case. We checked in with them about the harrowing process of her daughter Juniper’s life-saving heart transplant, both before and after.

What was the process like before receiving your transplant?

Juniper was listed for her heart transplant at just 3-weeks-old; we lived in the hospital during the entire wait. Early on, it was really hard; her diagnosis was a surprise, and she was extremely sick, so we didn’t know if she would even live long enough to get a transplant. Once we had some time to process our new reality and what life would be like for her and, once she was stabilized, things became easier. It was just a matter of waiting at that point. We became accustomed to hospital life, and relied on the amazing health care workers around us.

How did your family and friends help you prepare and cope with undergoing a transplant?

Our friends and family could not have been more supportive. They rallied behind us and always asked us how they could help. They sent us financial support, made sure we were well fed and visited Juniper in the hospital often. They frequently reminded us just how much we were cared for and that they were all rooting for our family. 

What would you say to the donor or donor’s family if you had the opportunity?

There are no words to describe our gratitude, or to express how much joy their decision has brought our family. We will never be able to thank them properly, but we hope they know that we think about their child and them, every single day. That we will honor the gift they have given our family by taking good care of their child’s heart and by giving Juniper a life filled with daily smiles, limitless love and enormous gratitude. 

What have been some of your most memorable moments that you never thought you would get to experience?

Like all parents, we have relished in many of the 'firsts' we've gotten to experience with our daughter. We got to share our first Christmas, her first birthday, and, of course, her first steps. There was certainly a time when we felt as though these were milestones that we would never reach. Each moment that every parent finds special is even more beautiful and rewarding considering all Juniper has been through.

How will you explain this experience to Juniper when she is older?

That is a question that we ponder over considerably. We fear the day when Juniper realizes that other kids don't have to take medicine twice daily, and that her many scars are unique and rarely seen on others. Fortunately, we have been proactive in documenting her journey through photographs and video. These images will help illuminate her story someday. Right now, we just cherish the fact that she doesn't know any other reality.

As a parent, what have been the biggest challenges throughout this experience?

Just watching Juniper struggle. There were stretches when she was doing very poorly and had a breathing tube. She was unable to cry, but was clearly distressed. The helpless feeling that goes along with watching your child in pain is something that no parent should go through. We were also met, at one point, with a surgery that presented a 50/50 chance of survival. Hearing that, and then watching the medical team wheel your child away, is an indescribable challenge.