Alanna Lucero is a typical 5-year-old. She likes bouncing on the trampoline and playing with her siblings and kids from school.
But she needs a heart transplant, and she needs it soon.
Alanna was born with a small hole in her heart, called a heart murmur. Over time, it closed, but it still caused a murmur, which led to hypertrophic cardiomyopathy. The condition causes a portion of the heart to thicken, meaning it can pump blood less effectively.
She often gets pain in her chest when she is tired or exercises too much, her grandfather, Robert Gomez, said. But until recently, Alanna was “doing relatively well on medication and monitoring,” he said.
But over the past few months, her condition has worsened. About a month ago, Alanna’s parents took her to the Children’s Hospital Colorado in Denver for a cardiac catheterization, a procedure used to diagnose and treat certain cardiovascular conditions.
During cardiac catheterization, a long thin tube called a catheter is inserted in an artery or vein in the groin, neck or arm and “threaded through your blood vessels to your heart,” according to the Mayo Clinic of Minnesota’s website.
Through the catheterization, doctors discovered that Alanna will need a heart transplant.
“Even the doctors at Children’s were surprised how quickly it progressed,” Gomez said, as Alanna’s heart rate plunged to the 50s range.
The family, including Alanna’s parents; her brother, Nicolas; and her sister, Addisyn; will need to find a place to stay in Denver to be ready in case the hospital has a heart for Alanna. The procedure will need to happen soon after the hospital identifies a heart.
And after the arduous surgery process, Alanna and her family will need to remain in Denver for at least nine months for weekly checkups with Children’s Hospital to ensure the new heart is working properly.
“She’s so brave,” Gomez said.
Leading up to the surgery, Alanna and her parents will have at least 12 different appointments with the doctors at Children’s Hospital, including appointments with psychologists who will help Alanna’s parents explain what is happening to their child.
“It’s been an emotional roller coaster,” Gomez said.
Because of her young age, Alanna’s parents will be able to go into the hospital for the surgery. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the hospital has been limiting visitors and family members to avoid the possible spread of the disease to patients.
Gomez said they have to be careful explaining the process to her because if Alanna knows where the heart is coming from, “she will never go for it.”
“She’s such a compassionate child,” Gomez said.
Alanna’s mother, Bella Lucero, and her grandfather, Leroy Lucero, both work at Mercy Regional Medical Center. Bella’s background allows her to explain the process in more detail to her family.
“When they wheel someone through those doors, you never know if it’s the last time you’re going to see them,” Gomez said. “That is our biggest fear with Alanna.”
But Gomez said his daughter has been very strong through everything.
“Bella is strong for her – mothers are much stronger than dads,” Gomez said.
Alanna’s grandparents said they are devastated about the situation, but they are grateful for the prayers people who attend their church, Sacred Heart Catholic Church, have held for Alanna.
“Faith has to be the No. 1 thing,” Karen Gomez, Alanna’s grandmother, said. But she also said she trusts the “amazing doctors and staff with the Children’s Hospital.”
Now retired, the Gomezes have been helping their daughter and son-in-law raise money for the procedure and living situation. Alpine Bank set up a fund for donations, and the family created a Venmo account, @AlannaLucero, that people can donate to digitally.
“The health care and relocation costs will be a huge financial burden,” Robert Gomez said. “It completely upsets their whole way of life.”
The family has been working to raise money, but Alanna’s grandmother said that “even a call or text of support really helps.”
The Gomez family and the Lucero family are Durango natives, and Gomez said they are grateful for all the support they’ve received so far. But they are still looking for an affordable living space in Denver.
The fundraising organization Durango Derailers, in which bicycle riders travel from Durango to Denver to raise money for Children’s Hospital, has helped with the Luceros’ gas money between the two cities for their daughter’s appointments.
But Gomez said he hopes that if someone knows of a place to live in Denver, they will reach out to the family and let them know, particularly if the owner is “willing to let it go for a little less.”
Both of Alanna’s parents will need to leave work for the time they are with her in Denver, so finding something inexpensive in the relatively pricey city is important, Gomez said.
“We just want to tell everyone thank you for their support,” Gomez said.