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Spotlight: This Denver mom shares the story of her daughter’s “borrowed heart”

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Mile High Mama Joni Schrantz has a background as a professional photographer and nurse. She is married to a salty, bearded English teacher who is passionate about politics, literacy and luckily cooking, since she’s “pretty terrible at it.”
We sat down with Joni to talk about her strong, sassy and adorable daughter, Juniper and her health struggles.
When did you first learn about Juniper’s heart condition?
 When I took her to her first pediatrician’s appointment. The doctor noticed her breathing a little heavy and ordered a chest X-ray. What would follow in the 7 months to come was a complete emotional roller coaster. We lived in a hospital for 6 months awaiting a life-saving heart transplant. 
juniper1Tell us about Juniper’s journey before and after her heart transplant?
 Before the transplant we didn’t know if we could imagine a future with Juniper. She went through so much those first few months and we often wondered if we were doing the right thing. She had to be kept alive mechanically by a 200-pound pump that acted as her heart. She endured 4 strokes, from which she’s recovered for the most part from. Since her transplant we live a pretty typical life with her. There are some residual challenges such as feeding issues, she receives most of her nutrition through a feeding tube and she is speech delayed. We work with a therapist every week and know she’ll get caught up in time. She requires meds every 12 hours so she doesn’t reject her heart, but that’s about it. She’ll be able to go to school and play sports just like any other kid, luckily she’ll have a close to normal childhood assuming her transplant doesn’t cause us issues for a while. 
What do you want parents to know about organ donation?
That sometimes kids need organs. In order for a child to be an organ donor, the parent has to say yes, as they are finding out the worst news of their life. When adults sign up, it’s when they are just out living their everyday life. When it happens with a child, the parent is learning that their child won’t make it. I think the decision is that much more beautiful when they say yes, because they are choosing the selfless thing even on their darkest day. 
I also want people to know that an organ transplant is not a cure. The transplant does not last forever. Many people think that a patient goes home and their problems are over. It’s a chronic illness, you’re trading one set of issues for another unfortunately. So as a parent, I fear for my daughter’s future. Unless medical advances are made in the next 10-20 years, I could very well outlive her and that is my worst fear. 
What do you love to do in the Mile High City together? 
We love eating out. The food scene is great and we love excuses to try new places. I also love the flea markets on the weekends. Denver is such a fun city to live in, I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else longterm. We really do have it all here. 
Follow Joni’s beautiful Instagram feed The Borrowed Heart. 
Amber Johnson
Author: Amber Johnson

Amber is the founder and editor of Mile High Mamas, travel writer and former columnist for The Denver Post. She is a passionate community builder and loves the outdoors. She has two awesome teens and is happily married to a man obsessed with growing The Great Pumpkin.

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