SARASOTA/MANATEE COUNTIES (WSNN) - During National Rehab week, a toddler is recovering after having a heart transplant when she was just a baby.

“I thought she wasn’t going to make it," said Thai Brown, Kehlani Rae's mom.

Just three months after Kehlani Rae was born back in October 2019, she had to go back to the hospital to be put on life support after getting double pneumonia from Influenza A. 

“She was breathing heavy, turning ghost white, and having seizures,” said Brown.

Brown says she was taken to UF Shands Hospital in Gainesville where Kehlani was put on a Berlin Heart, which is a heart pump that maintains blood flow in babies with serious heart conditions. After four months, Kehlani’s heart recovered. But, bad news struck again, 11 months later when her heart failed.

“One night, she was not feeling good, she was like burning hot, so they wanted to bring her in and test her and they told me she was hitting heart failure so I was like ’No, not again,'" said Brown.

Doctors told Brown, it would take about a year to get a heart transplant, but about a month later, she got a call from the Ronald McDonald House Charities saying a donor’s heart was available.

“I was jumping up and down," said Brown. "And I had to ask, when’s surgery? They say less than 24 hours. I said I’ll be the hospital.”

Kehlani was 18 months old when she got a new heart on March 1st, last year. 

“I had everybody praying and God answered,” said Brown.

Fast forward a year, and she is recovering well. Kehlani is currently at Banyan Pediatric Care Centers doing speech, occupational and physical therapies.

"She has a mild developmental delay, mostly related to just lack of exposure, especially from being hospitalized a good portion of her life,” said Lisa Graber, an occupational therapist at Banyan.

Banyan is a Medicaid-licensed Prescribed Pediatric Extended Care (PPEC) center providing skilled nursing for children from birth to age 21. While the recovery process takes time, baby steps lead to results.

 “Sometimes with these kids, the progress is very slow, but when you take a step back and you look at it over a year’s time, they’re making huge differences that oftentimes their families were told they would never do,” said Megan Kinney, a speech-language pathologist and the director of therapy at  Banyan.

After being here for about a year, Kehlani’s nurses say she is already caught up developmentally to her age group.

"From like a speech-language perspective, she is wise beyond her years,” said Kinney.

"She’s doing amazing, so proud of her," said Graber. "She’s just meeting and exceeding goals and she may not be in therapy too much longer.”

“We’re going from being sick to never knowing she was sick. Doing so much better, so I’m happy," said Brown.