LEESVILLE, La. -- This will be a special Christmas for Keona Mock and her new family; one that many people thought she wouldn’t live to see.
Keona was abused before she even left the womb. Her parents were addicted to a variety of illegal drugs that affected her development. Then, at just one month old, she came into Children’s Hospital in a coma with broken legs and ribs. A breathing tube down her throat was the only thing keeping her alive.
“They didn't know if she was going to live or die, but you see today that she is very much alive,” Tammy Mock, Keona’s adoptive mother, said.
Before she found Keona, Tammy Mock had a premonition in her Leesville home that a little girl in need was waiting for her. Mock and her husband already had seven children and had taken in 14 foster children, two of which stayed. They never thought they’d adopt a third.
“The state called and said we have a very fragile baby with very extensive medical needs,” Mock said. ”So I said yes.”
It takes four-and-a-half hours to get to Children’s Hospital in New Orleans from Leesville, but that was just the start of the journey. Keona needed two years of medical procedures to get well. The breathing tube that saved her life as an infant left scar tissue in her tiny airway, so doctors had to give her a tracheostomy – a hole in her neck with a tube that lets her breathe.
“It's pretty intense for a family to have a tracheostomy in a child,” Dr. Sohit Kanotra said. “It's like you're right on the edge every day, every minute, every second of your life. So, the mom couldn't leave Keona for a second.”
If the tube fell out, Keona wouldn’t be able to breath, but with it she couldn’t talk. As two years passed, Dr. Kanotra, an LSU Health Otolaryngologist, performed a delicate surgery opening up the scarred windpipe with pieces of Keona’s rib cartilage molded into the perfect shape.
“That's the hardest part of the whole surgery is getting it to perfection because an airway you don't have any, any work room you have to be perfect,” Kanotra said.
After weeks of healing, Keona got a speaking valve and everyone could hear her voice for the first time. Even Keona was surprised to hear herself speak.
“It was amazing,” Mock said. “It was so strong and just the excitement and the thrill of hearing her voice was just unbelievable.”
This Christmas, Keona’s trach is gone and the Mock family has permanent custody of Keona.
“That was the biggest blessing and reward we could ever get,” Mock said. “She has changed our lives so much.”
The Mock family is incredibly thankful for Dr. Kanotra’s surgical skill, but if you ask him, Tammy Mock was the guardian angel that kept Keona safe.
“I actually relate the whole success of this complex procedure to mom's care,” Kanotra said. “I think the foster mom has been just an angel -- I call her an angel -- she's known as an angel in this hospital because she's taken care of this baby like I've never seen before.”
For a girl who’s been fighting to survive her whole life, there will be a Santa Claus and angels this Christmas.
Those wanting to make a donation to Keona can click here.