Jackie McGriff learned in March her daughter, Imani Harvey, then 5, had a failing heart, and the family has been in survival mode ever since while waiting for a heart to become available.
That day came Oct. 12 — 237 days after Imani went to the hospital after passing out and being diagnosed with cardiomyopathy.
“She’s feeling good, and she’s happy to be home,” McGriff said.
“She hasn’t had any setbacks, and she started eating on her own and started taking her medicine by mouth, which was really good,” McGriff said.
Imani was treated for a blood clot in her brain and she had a seizure and three open-heart surgeries prior to receiving her new heart. She has endured physical, occupational and speech therapy on her road to healing.
Imani and her twin brother, Amari, are students at Lake Whitney Elementary School. The last seven months have been difficult for the 6-year-olds, who were allowed only a few visits because of COVID-19.
When news of the available heart reached Imani’s mother, she drove to Orlando to pick up Amari and the three of them spent time together at UF Health Shands Hospital. Amari was able to spend the night with his sister. The next morning, he and his mother walked Imani to her surgery.
When Imani was well enough to come home Oct. 28 —she and her mother visited Lake Whitney to surprise Amari.
Imani has nearly a dozen medications to help with the healing process. She will have to go to therapies to strength her right side, which was weakened after a stroke earlier this year. She must avoid large crowds because she is immunosuppressed, so that means being homeschooled for now. Her mother hopes she will be well enough to return in January.
Money has been tight for McGriff since Imani has been in the hospital. The single mother quit her job at Publix to be with her daughter in Gainesville and was scheduled to return to work just before a heart was located.
Now, she’s afraid to leave Imani with a sitter.
“I can’t leave her with just anybody,” McGriff said. “She has too much going on to trust her with anybody.”
In the meantime, Amari is doing his part in taking care of his sister, McGriff said. The two trick-or-treated a few weeks ago — she dressed as Moana, and he went as Buzz Lightyear. It lasted no more than 15 minutes, because Imani’s right foot gets tired, but the two had a blast together.
As part of her care plan, Imani goes weekly to Shands for checkups. After one month, that switches to twice a month.
McGriff said she hopes to return to work once Imani’s schedule lightens up in January. She said she’s concerned about the upcoming holidays and making them special for her children.
“Christmas is going to be tighter than in previous years, but we’ll make do with what we’ve got,” she said.
Community Editor Amy Quesinberry was born at the old West Orange Memorial Hospital and raised in Winter Garden. Aside from earning her journalism degree from the University of Georgia, she hasn’t strayed too far from her hometown and her three-mile bubble. She grew up reading The Winter Garden Times and knew in the eighth grade she wanted to write for her community newspaper. She has been part of the writing and editing team since 1990.