DENVER (CBS4) – This year Thanksgiving takes on new meaning for a Denver family. Their baby girl is home after spending her first six months waiting for a heart in Children’s Hospital.

Baby Juniper Gelrod was born with a disease that weakens the two lower chambers of the heart. Her transplant was the 400th performed at Children’s Hospital Colorado.

Strong and steady — that’s the sound of Juniper’s heart. It’s music to her mom, Joni Schrantz. It’s a healthy beat for a baby who was once very sick.

“We had a lot of moments where we were very worried that things would not go her way,” Schrantz said.

Juniper was born Feb. 12 to her delighted parents.

“She was eating like a normal baby, everything was normal,” Schrantz said.

But at her two-week checkup she was breathing heavily. It turned out her tiny heart was diseased and failing.

“It wasn’t pumping enough blood to her body to grow or even survive. She was near death,” said Dr. Scott Auerbach, pediatric cardiologist at Children’s Hospital.

The family moved into Children’s Hospital. Juniper was attached to what’s called a “Berlin heart.” Baby “June Bug” was Children’s Hospital’s smallest patient to use the artificial heart pump.

Days turned into weeks, weeks turned into months.

“In the beginning we cried a lot, a lot,” Schrantz said. “A lot of ups and downs.”

Baby Juniper with her parents (credit: Joni Schrantz)

Baby Juniper with her parents (credit: Joni Schrantz)

After five months there was finally word of a donor heart and Sept. 17 was transplant day. Eight days later Juniper went home.

“It was the best day, that was the best day,” Schrantz said.

Juniper is now all smiles, and everybody marvels at the adorable baby who beat the odds.

“It’s a gift … her whole life is a gift. She isn’t supposed to be here,” Schrantz said.

Her parents give thanks to the doctors and nurses at Children’s Hospital, and especially the donor’s parents, who turned their sorrow over losing their child into Juniper’s second chance.

Juniper suffered strokes in the hospital but doctors believe she’s fine. Her mother says she’s being stubborn about eating so she is still tube-fed. But she’s a happy baby who laughs a lot and her mom looks forward to the birthday parties and trips to the park in the years to come.

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