Eleven-year-old Sofia Sanchez danced the “Kiki challenge” Thursday at Lurie Children’s Hospital — and this time it was even a bigger deal than her rendition for a video that ended up going viral last month.
Her dance for a throng of reporters, hospital staff and relatives came after the fifth-grader from Downers Grove was the successful recipient of a heart transplant — a heart that arrived a week after her touching visit with the rapper Drake made international news.
“It feels good, better than my other heart because I couldn’t lay flat at all or sleep at night,” Sanchez said in her first public appearance since the surgery.
Sofia is currently recovering at the Ronald McDonald House after being discharged from Lurie last week following the transplant, which was necessitated after she was diagnosed with cardiomyopathy.
Sanchez and her mother, Natalie Sanchez, thanked the team of cardiologists and nurses who provided her care, along with all the donors to a GoFundMe campaign that raised $50,000, ten times the goal.
And Sofia especially wanted to show her gratitude to the relatives of the heart donor.
“My mom and I want to say thank you to the donor’s family for donating their organs because I wouldn’t be here right now,” Sofia said. “I would probably still be in the hospital and not doing the best as how I am now.”
Added her mom: “I’m grateful to have my daughter have a second chance at life. … It’s great to have her back.”
Dr. Carl Backer, who performed the nine-hour heart transplant surgery on Aug. 27, said the attention to Sofia’s case has helped raise awareness of the desperate need for organ donation.
“It brings some sort of joy, and something good comes out of something bad,” Backer said.
“It’s important to donate your good organs to save other people’s lives, and give them another chance at life,” Sofia said.
She now hopes to volunteer at Lurie when she is older, and plans to assure children on transplant lists that they will also make it through — a similar message to what Drake told her when he visited her Aug. 20 during a tour stop in Chicago. The rapper — whose song “In My Feelings” led to the Kiki dance challenge craze loved by Sofia — also told her to stay strong and keep fighting.
“I felt like a dream. … It was a dream to but it happened,” she said of the visit, which came after she danced the challenge with an IV strapped to her and recorded another video asking the performer to come see her.
Lurie cardiologists credit some of the girl’s successful recovery to the surprise visit by Drake two days after her 11th birthday.
The visit improved Sofia’s mental outlook, said Dr. Osama Eltayeb, the surgeon who implanted a ventricular assist device (VAD) inside Sofia in July.The VAD helps the heart pump blood and prepare for a transplant, and it gave Sofia the energy to perform “The Kiki Challenge.” She had the device in for a month.
“After that [visit], she was really ready for the transplant, and that’s why she improved really quickly,” Eltayeb said.
The new heart should last between five and 20 years for Sofia, said Dr. Stuart Berger, head of Lurie’s Heart Center — especially with advancement in technology and medicine.
“There is great reason to believe that this heart could last a long, long time,” Berger said.
Sanchez is expected to go home around Halloween. She said she isn’t sure what she will dress up as to go trick or treating, but maybe it will be something scary.