Ava Graziano is turning 3 next month, but because of a life-threatening birth defect, the toddler and her mother are requesting birthday wishes in the form of cards, rather than a party.
"She's three years old so she's not completely into the birthday party aspect yet, but she still knows it’s her birthday," Dawn Graziano of Colorado Springs, Colorado, told ABC News. “We are asking for cards, letters or drawings; anything she can open and put on the wall will bring her a smile.
"I'm just a parent that wants her daughter to have a special day on her birthday," which is Oct. 8.
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Graziano, a mom of four, said Ava, 2, was born with a life-threatening birth defect called congenital diaphragmatic hernia, or CDH. It’s a defect in the diaphragm, the muscle under the lungs that is responsible for breathing, according to Anne Kim, pediatric surgeon at UH Rainbow Babies & Children’s Hospital in Cleveland.
"What we do know is that it causes pulmonary hypoplasia and pulmonary hypertension, which may lead to a dangerous combination of problems with getting enough oxygen and getting rid of carbon dioxide," Kim said.
She added: "There have been cases where children are diagnosed at several months of age, even up to a year and a half of age, and these are generally the less severe defects."
Doctors shared the heartbreaking news of Ava's diagnosis with Graziano, she said, when she was around eight months pregnant.
"Of course, we were devastated," Graziano said. "No parent ever wants to hear that their child may or may not live when they are born. My first concerns were what her chances of survival were and what would get her the best chances."
"Ava has right-sided CDH and the thing that made it so life threatening was that her intestines and her liver were all up in her chest," she added. “They severely comprised her lungs."
Because of the risk from exposing Ava to germs, Graziano said, instead of a party, she is asking for people to send her daughter cards that she can hold onto for years to come
"As she gets older and I keep them and I put them on her wall, I hope they are an inspiration to her," Graziano said. "She may not understand the negativity we have seen with her special needs, but I'm hoping that as she does face them, she'll understand that she's different. And she can look at the cards and see so much love and support from people that it'll never drag her down.”
Graziano said she hopes Ava's story promotes awareness of children with CDH.
Birthday cards for Ava are being received at:
6414 Casual Drive, Colorado Springs, Colorado, 80923.