Gemma Botelho’s flu seemed mild at first. The day after her parents gave her medication, the 4-year-old returned to class and participated in her school’s Christmas play.
Two days later, Gemma became sick again: Her hands and feet were cold, and she developed a rash, CNN reported. Acting on a gut feeling, Gemma’s parents, Lejla Szabo and Alex Botehlo, took their daughter to the emergency room at Nicklaus Children’s Hospital in Miami, Florida, on Dec. 17. Almost as soon as the family arrived, Gemma went into cardiac arrest.
Although Gemma had the flu, the virus had attacked her heart, and doctors performed CPR for 45 minutes to save her life. Gemma survived incident, but her heart stopped working and she was placed on life support. She was then sent to a transplant center, but the prognosis was grim.
“[Alex] told me we just have to look back and appreciate these four and a half years we had with her,” Lejla told CNN.
Gemma’s parents asked their friends around the globe to pray for them. Lejla asked friends and family members in her native Hungary to organize masses for her daughter, while Alex, made a similar appeal in his native Brazil. Friends gathered in Argentina, Italy, Miami and Boston to pray for Gemma.
It was on Dec. 20 when the Gemma experienced a seemingly miraculous recovery: Her heart started beating again. Two days later, she was well enough to be taken off life support.
"Sometimes we don't understand everything that happens in medicine," Gemma’s pediatric heart surgeon, Dr. Jeffrey Jacobs of Johns Hopkins All Children's Heart Institute, said.
"When an adorable little girl recovers from a near death experience, it reminds all of us of why we do what we do," he added.
Though it’s not clear if Gemma suffered any brain damage due to oxygen deprivation during her cardiac episode, Jacobs believes she’ll “make a great recovery.”
"A month from now this is going to be a little bump in the road," he added.
Gemma is on her way back to health, but her parents caution others to get a flu shot -- something they neglected to do for Gemma.
"That feeling of losing your child right in front of you -- I don't want to feel that way again -- or anyone else,” Lejla said.