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After nearly a year wait, 1-year-old gets heart transplant

After waiting in the hospital for most of her life for a heart, 1-year-old Phoebe Friebel finally got that heart early Sunday morning.

ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. — One-year-old Phoebe Friebel has known nothing other than life in the hospital. She was on the heart transplant list for 342 days. The keyword there is "was." Early Sunday morning, Phoebe Friebel finally got the heart she'd been waiting for.

"The next thing I know my phone rings and it's the transplant coordinator and I just asked her, 'why are you calling me' because nothing was happening at the hospital," the child's mother, Jenee Friebel, said. 

The call about the donor heart came Saturday afternoon.

"She was like, 'well, I have really good news.' And I'm like at that point, I think I almost blacked out. I don't remember anything she said and my heart started beating so fast," Jenee Friebel said. "I just said [to her husband], 'Phoebe's getting a heart.'"

Phoebe was born with a heart defect that caused the left side of her heart to not fully develop, so her entire heart relied on the right side to keep her alive. In September, she got an artificial heart at Shands Children's Hospital in Gainesville. Since then, she waited for a real heart.

“I’m speechless. I don’t even know what to say. It still doesn’t feel real," Jenee Friebel said. "It has been hard, to be truthfully honest. It has been very, very hard."

Friebel said they're extremely grateful to the donor family because, without them, this wouldn't be possible. 

Phoebe's mom spoke to First Coast News in April when COVID-19 only allowed the St. Augustine 1-year-old to have one visitor, her mom.

"It's definitely scary. The fact that I could pick it up anywhere and bring it to her as well, so I have to be very, very careful," Jenee Friebel said in April.

The pandemic was just one of the roadblocks over the past year, including a painful false alarm in December. 

"After they got her completely asleep and incubated in the OR, we get the call and basically stating the heart transplant isn't going through because the heart isn't as well as they thought it was. It was definitely crushing," Jenee Friebel said in December.

Phoebe Friebel's parents have documented her journey that included spending every holiday in the hospital during the little girl's first year of life. 

"She still has a really long recovery process. It’s going to be a really tough one for her just because she has been so sick and her lungs have been so sick and then, of course, we have COVID on top of everything,” Jenee Friebel said.

For now, though, Jenee Friebel said Sunday is another holiday for them to celebrate.

"I definitely want to celebrate like it's a birthday almost. This is big. This is big. Heart transplants, they don't last forever," she said. "I mean, she might need another transplant in five years or 10 years, but I think right now we don't know what the future holds, so we want to celebrate everything we possibly can and do whatever we can so Phoebe can live a semi-normal life outside of the hospital."

Phoebe Friebel's parents continue to advocate for awareness about congenital heart defects. 

RELATED: 1-year-old St. Augustine baby continues to wait for heart transplant amid coronavirus pandemic

RELATED: Holding out for a heart: St. Augustine 1-year-old continues to wait for heart transplant after a year in the hospital