Santa Rosa family thankful for survival of mother, infant daughter

  • Kristy Mackey, far left, with her daughter Madelyn, prepare the fixings for a Thanksgiving meal on Wednesday night with her three sisters, parents and her husband Lauren, middle. (photo by John Burgess/The Press Democrat)

Kristy Mackey began singing again recently.

Her audience of one and biggest fan is her talkative, blue-eyed baby girl, Madelyn, now almost 11 months old and walking about her parents' southwest Santa Rosa home with steadier steps every day.

Stuffed animals cover the furniture and brightly colored musical toys are strewn on the floor around every corner. One plays a looped tune about Old MacDonald and his farm.

The snapshot of early parenthood is very normal.

But the path to this point for mother, daughter and all who have rallied around them has been extraordinary.

It started 33 years ago with a heart defect discovered in the moments after Kristy's own birth. An open-heart operation followed when she was 3 months old and a cardiac arrest almost killed her in her early 20s. Ten surgeries would follow.

But some of the most complicated challenges came a decade later, in near life-or-death decisions about what should have been a happy development in her young marriage — the news, unexpected and unplanned, that she was pregnant.

Since her heart failure, she had long been told by physicians that carrying and delivering a child would put too much strain on her heart. She and her husband, Lauren Mackey, had tried surrogacy instead and when that failed they considered adoption.

Yet once she was pregnant, doctors in San Francisco saw new vitality in Kristy's once-fragile heart. Motherhood was making it stronger.

Buoyed by their medical and family support, the couple decided to go forward, prepared all the while for a struggle that could include months of bed rest or worse — the possibility of Kristy's heart failing again and having to end the risky pregnancy.

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