CHICAGO -- Sofia and Jessica's friendship is one few would understand, born of fear but fueled by positivity.
At 11 years old, Sofia Sanchez came to Lurie Children’s with cardiomyopathy, her heart too weak to pump blood through her tiny body. It’s a condition that often leads to heart failure.
While receiving treatment, she made a new friend in Jessica Venditto, who was also in the hospital with a heart condition.
“My favorite part of the day was when Sophia would come up to my door and knock with her smile, she’s always so positive,” Jessica said.
While she waited for a new heart, Sofia's spirit remained strong- with ongoing support from her new friend.
“She kinda helped me because she went through this her whole life. So, she inspired me to be stronger, too,” Sofia said.
Then one day Sofia made a video of her doing the Kiki Challenge to Drake's "In My Feelings" down the hospital hallway. She even recorded a message to the superstar, saying she often sang "God’s Plan" as she prayed for her heart. The video went viral, and even before Sofia got her transplant, she got a huge surprise: Drake came to Lurie to see her. He was in town for a concert at the United Center, and it just so happened that Sophia’s 11th birthday was that weekend, too.
“It felt like a dream. I didn’t know if it was real or not. I froze for a second. It was a dream to me, but it happened. He said to stay strong and keep fighting, and we’ll get through this and it helped a lot,” Sofia said.
Then her dreams really came true, as Sofia received not just a visit from Drake, but also a heart transplant within a week of each other. As she showed off her old Kiki dance moves with a new heart, her heart surgeon Dr. Carl Backer says he loves the spotlight shining on Sofia, because that light may brighten the lives of others waiting for an organ and donor families who give the gift of life.
“I think it’s great to get this kind of attention. For the donor family to get the information that their child’s heart and many other organs can go to other children that then have a life like this, it brings some sort of joy, something good comes out of something really bad,” Dr. Backer said.
Now Sofia is hoping her next transplant operation will be something she’ll share with her dear friend Jessica, who has had five open heart surgeries over the past 23 years since the issues began while she was still a baby.
There are three people currently waiting for a heart transplant at Lurie, while doctors there have performed 26 so far this year.
“When I get that call, I am going to call Sophia right away. She’ll help me and tell me how it’s gonna be ok,” Jessica Venditto said.
Now Sofia hopes her new friend Drake will come back and encourage the kids who are still waiting, just like he did for her.
“Come back here and tell the kids who are gonna get a transplant that it’s going to be ok and go back to all the stuff you did. It just takes time,” Sofia said.
Speaking for the first time since her transplant a month ago Thursday, Sofia said she is feeling good.
"It feels good, better than my other heart, because I couldn't lay flat at all or sleep at night," she told the media. "It feels good to be back to myself before I had heart failure."
She also thanked everyone who supported her during her hospitalization and recovery process.