Updated 03/03/2013 11:51 AM
Washingtonville teenager thriving with new heart
It's a story of two families. One with reason to celebrate, the other with reason to cry; but, there is something that unites them. Christian Farrell has the story of the "helping heart."
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POUGHKEEPSIE, N.Y. - "No one realized, especially me, how sick I was," said Brianna Barker.
Brianna Barker, 15 of Washingtonville is no longer deathly ill. The heart condition she suffered from as a young child is gone. She's actually healthier now than she's been her entire life. That's because Brianna has a new heart.
"I'm not just a survivor of heart disease. I'm not just a survivor of a heart transplant, but I'm thriving. I'm doing so much more than I ever thought I could do," said Barker.
Brianna's good fortune is a result unfortunately of another family’s unspeakable sorrow.
"It was really, really, important to me to find them. I spent many nights searching those obituaries because I knew that it was someone else who lost their teenager," said Veronica Barker.
Some 600 miles away in Seven Springs, North Carolina that someone's identity is uncovered. Her name is Kaitlyn Nicole Rouse, 16.
"She was a straight A student, a size zero at the time. When she had her accident her whole world turned upside down; and, she developed a level of anxiety I just didn't understand," said Kaitlyn's mother, Shannon Ruiz.
According to Shannon Ruiz, her daughter would soon turn to prescription drugs.
"She ended up being court ordered into rehab for the Zanax addiction," said Ruiz.
Kaitlyn's addiction however proved to be too strong.
"On my birthday, June 20th, she chose that day to relapse," said Ruiz.
Kaitlyn was found by her brother, floating in the family pool. Her mother desperately tried to revive her. It didn't work. Kaitlyn was pronounced dead at the hospital from a drug overdose.
But what Shannon Ruiz did next, did work. She donated her daughter's organs.
"My daughter wanted to be a cardiologist. It was just right. She wanted to save lives," said Ruiz.
"Kaitlyn did something that no cardiologist could ever do. She fixed me. She made me live my life," said Brianna Barker.
But the selfless acts in this story don't end with donating organs. Doctors have said the use of CPR in Kaitlyn's case was vitally important in making it possible to donate her organs. Meanwhile, Veronica Barker also performed CPR on her daughter after Brianna's original heart gave out. If either mom hadn't known CPR, this story would not have a happy ending.
Both families are now involved in raising CPR awareness. They've teamed with the American Heart Association. The organization is promoting the CPR in Schools Bill, requiring students to learn it before graduating.
"I think it's a disservice to these kids that they're not getting CPR. It's a skill they'll take with them throughout their life," said Mark Hurley of the American Heart Association.
A skill these two mothers are thankful they took the time to learn.