BEFORE HER FIRST BIRTHDAY, 4-year old Tallia Cunnea had more heart surgeries than most people have in a lifetime. — LAKE WORTH, Fla. — This is a story about a girl and her brand new heart.
Before her first birthday, 4-year old Tallia Cunnea had more heart surgeries than most people have in a lifetime.
But a local foundation is making sure she can still lead as normal a life as possible through her medical condition.
On Thursday, WPTV stopped by the Cunnea home to meet Tallia.
Outside the home, you’ll see a banner adorned with Disney princesses and a message that reads, “Welcome Back Tallia!”
Inside the house, Tallia is dressed in a bright yellow Princess Belle dress, laughing and full of life. Her family says she tried on so many dresses before settling on this one.
She’s small, but you’ll quickly learn that her big heart more than makes up for it. Her mothers, Tori and Halley Cunnea, are working overtime keeping up her like any other pre-schooler.
“She’s got the biggest personality anyone has ever seen,” said her mother, Tori Cunnea.
Despite her energy, Tallia is still in recovery. Almost three months ago, the little princess had a heart transplant.
“Tallia’s always been the biggest fighter,” said Tori.
It’s been a long journey since Tallia’s birth in May 2015.
“Tallia was undiagnosed so she was born with at home with a midwife,” said Tori. “As far as we knew, we had a perfectly normal healthy baby.”
But at just 8 days old, she went into shock and her mothers noticed her feet turning purple.
“We had 10 to 15 people swarming around her doing tests,” said Tori.
Doctors determined she had Hypoplastic Left Heart Syndrome.
“The left side of her heart did not grow while she was in the womb,” said Halley.
The diagnosis came as a complete surprise, as it was not discovered on ultrasound.
“At 12 days old, she had her first heart surgery,” said Halley.
After three years going in and out of the hospital for surgeries, medicine and doctor visits, she was eventually placed on the heart transplant list.
She went into surgery for her new heart in early April 2019, but the surgery did not go as planned. She came back on a bypass machine.
Two surgeries later and more than a month in the hospital, Tallia’s new heart finally caught on.
According to doctors, her heart has shown minimal signs of rejection but they are continuing to keep an eye on her, with weekly doctor’s visits.
Tallia’s condition has forced her to spend most of her life in a hospital room.
“There was not anything that Tallia could do other than lay in a bed,” said Halley.
To make matters even more complex, the family just welcomed a newborn baby boy into the world, just two weeks after Tallia was discharged from the hospital in May.
That’s why the local non-profit, Chasin’ A Dream Foundation, stepped in to help.
“Their finances are devastated trying to save their child,” said founder, Lori Griffith.
Tallia is one of dozens of sick children receiving hospital care packages from Chasin’ A Dream which includes blankets, pillows, toys, toiletries and even an iPad.
“The iPad is really crucial for the months that she spent in the hospital she now is able to download learning games, not just cartoons,” said Griffith.
Tallia has been able to learn everything she needs as a pre-schooler through her iPad, which her family would’ve struggled to afford otherwise. The foundation has also helped the family cover hospital expenses and growing bills.
“The cost to a family to have a child in the hospital is absolutely phenomenal. It puts so many families into bankruptcy,” said Griffith.
With Tallia back home, her journey is far from over. Her parents learned that her new heart has a half-life of 10 years and after that, only 50 percent of heart transplant patients survive.
She also has to take 22 doses of medicine every single day.
But Tallia will continue to receive support from the foundation, no matter where her new heart leads her.
“It’s amazing, we really didn’t know if we were going to get this far,” said Halley. “The doctors even thought that we weren’t going to be able to take her home.”
“Even when we think things are bad, she takes a turn for the better,” said Tori.
If you would like to learn more about Chasin' A Dream Foundation, click here.