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

One-year-old Phoebe Friebel is waiting for a heart transplant. COVID-19 precautions have now limited who can visit her as she waits in the hospital.

ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. — One-year-old Phoebe Friebel hasn’t seen her dad besides through FaceTime in three weeks.

“She knows he is there, but I don’t think she understands, ‘why hasn’t he come to see me,” Jenee Friebel, the baby's mother, said. “That’s the sad part.”

Phoebe Friebel, from St. Augustine, has spent most of her life in the hospital because of a heart defect. Now, COVID-19 has limited her visitors to just one. Phoebe Friebel’s heart defect causes the left side of her heart to not fully develop, so her entire heart relies on the right side to keep her alive.

She got an artificial heart in September at Shands Children’s Hospital in Gainesville. Since then, she' s waited at the hospital for a real heart. When First Coast News last spoke with the baby's parents in February, Phoebe Friebel wasn’t doing that great. In fact, she was so weak at the time that if a heart became available, they feared she wouldn’t make it through the surgery.

The good news, Jenee Friebel said, is that now, her daughter is doing much better.

“We’ve been having some really good days," Jenee Friebel said. "This past week, she has been super happy and she has just been in such a good mood."

Except now, they have another worry: coronavirus.

“Her lungs are not the greatest. She’s still on oxygen support, so if Phoebe were to get coronavirus, I’m not sure she’d be able to fight it," Jenee Friebel said. "She’s already struggling as it is. It’s really scary the fact that I can pick it up anywhere and bring it to her, so I’ve had to be very, very careful."

Jenee Friebel is her daughter's only visitor because of the hospital’s precautions related to the virus. She said she only goes to the hospital and her apartment to limit possible exposure to COVID-19.

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“I thought before coronavirus [Phoebe waiting for a heart] was putting a damper on having family time together, and now that this has happened, you know, obviously we don’t get that special time together,” she said.

If a heart becomes available Monday, Friebel said they’d be able to go through with the transplant.

“If Phoebe were to get a heart, the sad part is Karl wouldn’t even be able to see her before or after the surgery, so that would be really hard, but we’ll take it,” Jenee Friebel said.

She said her worst fear is that the hospital staff makes the regulations on who can visit even stronger.

“I was worried they were going to say no parents at all, which I don’t know what will happen. I hope not, but that’s my worst fear: Phoebe sitting up there alone for weeks or months,” she said.

For now, they’ll hold out for the end of this pandemic like they’re holding out for a heart.

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