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Best Christmas gift ever: A new heart for Iowa teen

Brooklyn Soroka was diagnosed with a congenital heart ailment at 13 that slowly sapped her energy
Credit: Special to Local 5 News
Brooklyn Soroka, shown left in her Norwalk High School graduation photo, received a heart transplant early Christmas morning. Right, Brooklyn, 18, gives the thumbs up after coming out anesthesia.

IOWA CITY, Iowa — Dana Soroka called her daughter, Brooklyn, shortly before midnight Christmas Eve.

Brooklyn was finishing off a late shift at Wells Fargo. She planned to go visit her boyfriend after her shift.

Dana told her 19-year-old daughter and told Brooklyn to hurry home to the south side of Norwalk. They needed to get to Iowa City Hospitals and Clinics to collect it.

Brooklyn’s big Christmas present had arrived in a cooler packed with ice – a donor heart.

“Get home, girl,” Dana remembers telling her daughter. “It’s finally here.”

Brooklyn was diagnosed with a degenerative heard condition when she was 13. She got dizzy during a P.E. workout and passed out. A series of trips to doctors produced the diagnosis: restrictive cardiomyopathy.

That meant Brooklyn’s heart chambers were slowly stiffening over time. It could squeeze normally but is not able to relax between beats normally. Her heart struggled to fill with blood and distribute oxygen throughout the body.

Doctors limited Brooklyn’s activities to preserve her heart. No more gymnastics, dance classes or volleyball.

“She couldn’t even swim in the lake like normal teenagers do,” Dana said.

Brooklyn made do. She followed the rules. She limited activity. She took her medications. She made her milestones, including graduating from Norwalk High School last year.

She got a job at Wells Fargo, where her mom also works.

Brooklyn’s energy faded quickly. She became more sluggish. Mom and dad, Joshua, an auto mechanic, watched her closely. They all struggled.

“I can't even imagine what it's like to be a patient who lives with a condition like this, not only do are they probably always worried that their condition could worsen over time,” said Dr. Rabia Khan, a specialist at UIHC who is working with Brooklyn, “whether or not a heart would be available in time for them.”

But this heart was just in time.

People on transplant lists are told to keep a packed bag ready when the call comes. Brooklyn wasn’t ready. She drove home from Wells Fargo in Des Moines and filled a bag.

Doctors transplanted the new heart early Christmas Eve morning.

Brooklyn woke up. Still on a ventilator, she couldn’t speak. Her parents held a clipboard.

Her first question: “Do I have my heart?”

Her parents affirmed.

Brooklyn’s second question: “Where’s my phone?”

Typical teenage priorities.

But it makes sense. News this good needs to be shared.