Covington 4-year-old hospitalized in Texas, in need of lung transplant

Ava Thomas’ parents and doctor urge more organ donations
Published: Aug. 15, 2022 at 8:48 PM CDT

NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - Ava Thomas was a playful 4-year-old not that long ago.

“Hey,” she said with a big smile on a home video provided by her parents, John and Jennifer Thomas of Covington.

“We celebrated her birthday. We had a crawfish boil. We had all of our family together on April 3rd,” Jennifer said. “Twenty days later, she was admitted into the hospital. It was that fast that she just declined, and we still don’t understand how it happened.”

Even though Ava was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis three weeks after being born, she was faring well, her parents said. They are both health care professionals, and were taking the necessary steps as caregivers at home.

“It’s a daily regimen --medication, breathing treatments -- we had done all that, everything,” John said. “We’ve kept her maintenance up.”

But things changed suddenly during the spring.

“In the past, she’s never been really sick, so this was strange,” John said.

“Just a few weeks after her birthday, she got really sick and went to the ER on April 23. And she’s been in the hospital ever since,” Jennifer said.

Ava first was admitted to St. Tammany Parish Hospital, then two days later was transferred to Children’s Hospital New Orleans.

“And they did all the things,” Jennifer said. “She was on the ventilator there.”

Ava eventually needed to be referred to a Houston hospital, for specialized treatment with an ECMO machine, which takes blood from a patient, adds oxygen, and returns the oxygenated blood to the patient’s veins. She has been at Texas Children’s Hospital since May 3.

“We were sent here to Houston, to this hospital, which is capable of ECMO and they do transplants,” Jennifer said.

Dr. Maria Carolina Gazzaneo is a critical care doctor and lung transplant physician at the hospital, and is involved in Ava’s treatment.

“She developed this bacterial pneumonia that basically destroyed her lungs,” said Gazzaneo. “So, she was transferred, because she developed a pneumonia and end-stage lung disease. She needed more support than what she was on.”

Dr. Gazzaneo said it was determined that Ava needs a full lung transplant.

“She is connected to this machine, and she definitely is in desperate need for an organ donor,” Dr. Gazzaneo said. “For us as a team, it’s difficult, you know? Because she’s a 4-year-old baby, a girl, and the amount of donors is sometimes very small, the offers.”

The girl’s mother said, “It is indescribable -- indescribably scary -- that we’re actually having to go through this with Ava.”

But her parents said Ava is a fighter, which she has demonstrated during her long hospital stay.

“She’s come a long way, as far as where she’s at today,” John said. “And her fighting that hard has made it possible for her to be on a transplant list.”

Her mother says Ava has surprised them.

“We thought, ‘What are we going to do, when she’s here in the hospital and she can’t get out of bed and she has this big tube coming out of her neck?’ She is just doing fantastic, as far as the rest of her body. She is able to communicate with us more. She gets up with physical therapy,” Jennifer said.

But Ava’s parents and doctor stressed the need for more organ donors.

“Our little Ava is a beautiful, young 4-year-old. Her family is amazing and we really hope that we get her donor offer,” said Dr. Gazzaneo.

Ava’s parents are optimistic she will get the transplant.

“We’re just staying strong, we’re staying positive and we’re going to get our girl home,” Jennifer said.

Those interested in donating to assist Ava’s family with medical expenses can click here or here.

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