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Meg Farris / Eyewitness News
Email: mfarris@wwltv.com | Twitter: @megfarriswwl

NEW ORLEANS -- Her parents say not long ago their little girl was vibrant, funny and loved to dance.

Now she lies sedated in a hospital bed as the first child in the state to get a mechanical heart.

But the next week is critical to see if her heart will get strong again.

It was a normal day when the Sanchez family picked up 3-year-old Malia from day care in Alexandria weeks ago. But they noticed a classmate was sick. Two days later, Malia was as well.

'She had some typical flu-like or cold-like symptoms, sore throat, fever, akin to any cold basically. It's a common cold. It's due to a virus,' said Dr. Tim Pettitt, associate professor of surgery at LSU Health Sciences Center and a pediatric cardiothoracic surgeon at Children's Hospital in New Orleans where he is also the director of the ECMO program.

But for some reason, the virus affected her heart.

'She started looking greenish yellow and then her heart was pumping, like out of her chest, and then her respirations were very labored,' said Erica Sanchez, Malia's mother.

To save Malia's life, she was put on a heart lung bypass machine (ECMO). Then in surgery, she became the first in Louisiana to be put on a Berlin Heart, a mechanical heart that is pumping the oxygen rich blood to her body since her own heart muscle is too weak.

'There's a possibility that her heart could recover, but she's been on this artificial support now for over a week and the chances are that her heart muscle function is not going to recover enough for her to sustain herself, so we're preparing for transplant,' said Dr. Pettitt.

'God gave us a peace, so I knew the day of the surgery she would be fine,' said her mother.

Malia will not be able to leave Children's Hospital. The pump is connected to a large computer center that regulates blood flow. When she wakes up, she will be able to walk around and go outside.

'As a dad, it's hard to, any parent, to go through this. So, but thank God she's still here with us,' said Jesse Sanchez, Malia's father.

'Hopefully, this will raise awareness and it's also important for people to be organ donors,' Dr. Pettitt reminded people watching.

At only 27, Erica was told another pregnancy would kill her because she developed a heart condition 36 weeks into her pregnancy. Malia had to be delivered by c-section four weeks early.

Now her parents wait to see if their only little girl will heal or need a heart from another child to keep her alive.

Doctors at Children's Hospital will decide in the next week if Malia needs to go on a heart transplant list.

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