Champion Child survives heart surgery at four months old

Abbotsford family plans to raise money to buy hospital a heart machine used to save their daughter

Gary and Karm Ahuja pose with their children Maya and Danny. The parents almost lost their youngest when she had to undergo open-heart surgery at only four months old.

Gary and Karm Ahuja pose with their children Maya and Danny. The parents almost lost their youngest when she had to undergo open-heart surgery at only four months old.

Karm Ahuja was holding her baby daughter’s tiny hand, just after she had emerged from four hours of open-heart surgery.

Maya appeared so tiny in the full-sized hospital bed, and she was connected to a frightening collection of tubes and machines.

The four-month-old looked up at her mom and, before Karm could make a connection, the baby went blank. The beep of the flatlining heart monitor was followed by controlled panic.

A nurse pushed Karm out of the way, and a cardiologist came charging into the room.

Karm and her husband, Gary, were escorted by another nurse to a private waiting area.

“She’s gone. I don’t think they’re going to be able to revive her,” Karm said through her numbness.

All Karm and Gary could do was wait. It would take a full 22 minutes for Maya to be revived, and a while longer before the couple was told she was alive.

Maya’s health was precarious for months afterwards, but today the almost three-year-old is energetic and feisty. She enjoys playing with her six-year-old brother Danny, and they share an interest in Thomas the Tank Engine, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, cake and lollipops.

“Maya is very physical. She loves to wrestle and tickle and pinch,” Karm said.

The Abbotsford couple credit the team of doctors and nurses at B.C. Children’s Hospital with Maya’s recovery.

As a way to give thanks, they are participating in the A World of Smiles Telethon on Sunday, May 26. Maya is this year’s “champion child.”

They have also set a goal to raise $100,000 ($5,000 a year for 20 years) – the cost of an ECMO machine, a heart/lung machine used for open-heart surgery patients. So far, they have raised $10,000.

“That machine helped save our daughter’s life. I only thought it would be right to give something back,” Gary said.

Karm was about three months’ pregnant with Maya when a blood test detected some abnormalities, but the exact condition wasn’t known until her birth on June 15, 2010.

A battery of tests confirmed that Maya had a congenital heart defect known as tetralogy of fallot, which reduces the flow of blood through the heart.

She would require surgery, but not right away. That time came when Maya was four months old and her condition had worsened, causing increasingly laboured breathing and lethargy.

The surgery went well, but after the flatlining episode, doctors could not stitch her chest back up for seven days, due to the swelling of her heart.

Maya was placed in a drug-induced coma while she healed.

“It’s hard to see your child like that,” Gary says.

Maya spent a total of six weeks in hospital and returned at the age of 14 months to have surgery on the cleft palate that she had also been born with. Maya has since been diagnosed with a genetic condition called Cornelia de Lange syndrome, a developmental disorder that can affect many parts of the body.

She will require another surgery – around the age of five – to fix the blood flow between her left and right atria.

But Gary and Karm are optimistic about Maya’s future. She has come through so much already, but is otherwise a typical three-year-old.

“I can’t imagine not having this little monkey,” Karm says.

For more information about the upcoming telethon, visit