COVINGTON, La. — Doctors, nurses, and other members of the medical team clapped and waved at 4-year-old Ava Thomas last Monday as she was rolled down the hospital hallway.
"She's waited a long time and at that moment she knew she was getting her new lungs," John Thomas, Ava's dad said.
Ava has cystic fibrosis. It's a rare genetic disorder that causes thick and sticky mucus which blocks airways, damaging your lungs. With proper precautions, Ava has remained healthy and out of the ER until April.
"We will never have an answer to why she got so sick so quickly," Thomas said.
Thomas said his daughter developed double pneumonia and her lungs couldn't take it.
She was put on ECMO and began the long wait for new lungs. The family from Covington went to Texas Children's Hospital in Houston where they waited on a transplant list until the news came one week ago.
"All the doctors came in and said, 'can we take the parents to the conference room?' and my heart dropped," Thomas recalled. "Not really having good thoughts at the moment, sat us down and they told us we had an offer and it was a match and that we would expect her to go into surgery Monday morning."
They then shared the news with their bright and tough daughter.
"We said, 'you're finally getting your new lungs,' and she called them 'cuties,' that’s what she named her lungs, cuties. She was scared, but she was happy because she knew when this happens, it's one step closer to home," Thomas said.
The parade down the hallway led to a 12-hour surgery on November 28 which was a success.
"This is her chance. This is definitely her chance,” Thomas said.
For Ava to receive the lungs another young person around her size had to lose their life to donate them. That family gave the Thomases the most selfless gift.
"I would thank them first, of course," Thomas said. "The donor's family, of course, is going through a tough time right now."
The family has remained anonymous so far.
"I hope the family finds peace knowing they saved multiple kids’ lives and their kid will live on, just in a different way," Thomas said.
The Thomases have openly shared Ava's story hoping to raise awareness about organ donation and cystic fibrosis. It's a cause the family of Saints fans learned they share with Saints player Jarvis Landry whose cleats for a cause were shared two days ago by the New Orleans Saints on social media.
"The color of his cleats is dedicated to CF and it just, it lit a fire in me, like he's got to know about his smallest Saints fan who just went a double lung transplant and made it through," Thomas said. "This is who you're supporting, this little girl, this is what you stand for."
The small Saints fan has fans of her own who recently heard about her Amazon Christmas wish list.
"Day before yesterday we got a phone call from the mail room in the hospital, 'Mr. Thomas, we have 60 packages for Ava,'" Thomas said.
For the first time in months, Ava is no longer on ECMO which caused her to swell and Thomas sees his little girl now resting and recovering from her tough battle.
"We can actually see our kid again. Swelling went down," he said. "She looks like our Ava."
Ava will have to stay in the hospital for another three or four months until she can return home to Covington. Her family hopes to then once again see her start living life again.
“To return to her normal spunky self,” Thomas said.