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Gainesville girl gets 'second' second chance with double transplant

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GAINESVILLE, Ga. -

The goodbyes were the hardest part. Two years after her transplanted heart began to fail, doctors have finally found 23-year old Kayla Montiel a new heart. Sitting in the pre-op area at Emory University Hospital, Kayla says she’s feeling a rush of emotions, "Shock, many different mixed emotions, happiness, relief. Nervousness."

Her mother Debbie Mancaruso says, “It's emotional right now, (I’m) just trying to keep my head going."

For the last 37 days, Kayla has been in Emory University Hospital's ICU, a 1A, so critically ill she was placed at the very top of the transplant waiting list. She was just a toddler, the first time she received a donor heart.

Doctors thought it would last 5-10 years. It's been 22.

Kayla says that the first donor heart was good to her. She says, “It lasted me all throughout school, through high school, everything.

It just gave me a second chance at life, and now I'm lucky enough to get a third."

But this time, Kayla doesn't just need a new heart, she needs a kidney, too.

Yet, already it feels like a door is opening. She says this heart means a future, “Not only finally getting out of this bed, but finally starting my life." Her mom says, “I know she has purpose, or she wouldn't have been given this chance. And, I'm not going to lie, every night I cry."

Now, there are more tears before Kayla’s family and boyfriend head out to begin their long wait. She is rolled back into the operating room. Cardiothoracic surgeon Dr. Jeffrey Miller, who knows Kayla, and has operated on her once before, will be her surgeon again. And, he's bracing for a long night. Miller explains, “She’s had three open heart surgeries. This will be her fourth. So getting in, getting back into this chest will be a challenge. But we've done it before, and I think it will go just fine."

It's dark when the donor heart finally arrives. Given - anonymously - by another family, in another hospital, letting go of hope.

Sitting in the waiting area, Debbie Mancaruso says she can’t stop thinking about the donor’s family. She says, "I have no words, I don't even think "thank you" is enough."

In the OR, Kayla is placed on a heart-lung bypass, allowing the team to remove her stiffened heart and carefully attach the new one. There's always the risk the new heart won’t work, or Kayla will start bleeding. But she pulls through, and this is just the beginning.

After a few hours a rest, round two: the kidney transplant. Kayla's new kidney is also from her heart donor. Her kidneys were damaged by years of anti-rejection drugs taken after her first transplant. So, she needs this, to start feeling better.

Three days later, in Emory's Cardiac ICU, "better" still seems kind of far off.

Kayla in in pain, and has a sore throat, from being intubated. "But, she does thank everyone out there, and her voice is kind of small right now,” explains her mom Debbie.

And when she's stronger, Kayla Montiel hopes to say her own "thank you,"

To the family... whose gift... gave her this chance.

Eight days after her double transplant, Kayla is recovering and feeling much better. Monday she underwent a heart biopsy, which showed no signs of rejection. You can follow Kayla’s story on a Facebook page created by her family.

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