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Mom makes sure baby's beat goes on
Eighteen-month-old Xavier Smith might not be here today, if it were not for a grandmother's intuition.
After he and his mother — 22-year-old Jessica Mendoza — were released from the hospital, Mendoza's mother noticed he was not eating and not breathing properly.
"He was my first baby. I didn't really know. I thought that he was normal," Mendoza said. "We called the hospital, and they said keep trying (to feed him), but my parents said, 'No, let's take him to the hospital.' We called Davis, and they told us what it might be."
It turned out that baby Xavier was born with a congenital heart defect that had gone undetected during Mendoza's pregnancy, and he had to be airlifted to UC Davis Medical Center.
"I know in California, in July (of 2013), they made it mandatory to have (Pulse Oximetry Screenings) in all hospitals, which might have detected his condition before he was born. At they time, they only did it at the bigger hospitals," said Mendoza, who gave birth at Colusa Regional Medical Center before the screenings were mandatory in California.
Mendoza is thankful that her mother was there to offer her guidance — and for good reason.
"They said his organs had begun to shut down, and that if I hadn't brought him in when I did, he would have died. What he has is one of the major heart defects — hypoplastic left heart syndrome. Basically, the left side of his heart is underdeveloped," Mendoza said.
At just 10 days, Mendoza's son had the first of three surgeries to address his heart condition, referred to as the Norwood procedure. At three months, he had his second surgery, and he is scheduled for his third — and hopefully last — this fall.
"It was very scary. It's just me and him. His dad is not involved. We were at UCD for a little over a month, from Aug. 14 to Dec. 17 of 2012. He was just a few days old when we got there," Mendoza said.
The single mother has since become a champion for increasing awareness of congentital heart defects — the most common type of birth defects worldwide, affecting eight out of every 1,000 newborns in the United States every year.
Despite much of her time being dedicated to doctors appointments for her son, Mendoza took it upon herself to contact the Colusa City Council via City Clerk Shelly Kittle with a proposal to increase public awareness on the condition.
The Colusa City Council was set to present her with a proclamation on Tuesday night at its meeting, declaring the Feb. 7 through Feb. 14 as "Congenital Heart Defect Awareness Week."
"I didn't even think they would get back to us so quickly," she said. "It means a lot to us, because it is something that hits close, and I didn't know about before I had (my son). I'm still learning, too."
Mayor Greg Ponciano was impressed by Mendoza's resolve.
"I think it's pretty amazing and pretty admirable that someone her age would say 'I'm not going to accept this,'" Ponciano said. "My first inclination is how amazing this woman is, and her mom, too. This could have been a very different story had they not acted in the way they did. From the city's perspective, this is a simple gesture we can do, and if it helps to raise awareness, that is great."
Mendoza's sister, who is a senior at Colusa High School, is also on board with the effort to increase awareness of congenital heart defects.
"My sister is doing her senior project on (Xavier's) condition," Mendoza said.
Last year, she and her family participated in the first "Heart Walk" in Sacramento.
"We got involved, and I had some family members who donated to Xavier's team," Mendoza said.
This year, she plans on participating in the walk again, which will once again take place in Sacramento on April 12. She is working to raise funds for Team Xavier and has a page where donations can be made at www.kintera.org.