An Iowa woman who has been in and out of hospitals her entire life due to a congenital heart defect was reunited with a nurse who helped save her life as a newborn after putting out a plea on Facebook.
Christina Jennings, 31, was born with tricuspid atresia, a birth defect that prevents blood from flowing correctly from the heart to the rest of the body, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
She spent much of the first months of her life at California's Loma Linda University Medical Center, where she was cared for in the pediatric intensive care unit by a nurse named Rob.
Jennings’ mother, Beth Gilbreath, never forgot the care Rob provided for her and Jennings, including the time Jennings went into cardiac arrest at five months old.
“I never left her side,” Gilbreath told ABC News. “But on that particular day, for whatever reason [Rob] just said, ‘Go down to the cafeteria. She is stable. Take a break.’”
She continued, “So I did and I was gone for 15 minutes. I came back and the nurse said you can’t go in. She had coded.”
Jennings recovered from the cardiac arrest and went on to defy doctors’ expectations, thriving after four open heart surgeries and living beyond the life expectancy her doctors first predicted.
She was told by her parents of the nurse, Rob, who helped save her life and was a source of reassurance for Gilbreath.
“My mom always says that she thinks it was a sign from God, that she never would have been able to emotionally handle it if she had seen me go into cardiac arrest,” Jennings said. “It was a blessing in disguise that Rob was there and convinced her to take a break.”
Gilbreath said of her gratitude to Rob, “This is the God’s honest truth, every single night he’s been in my prayers. Not just because of the coding incident but because of the person he was and the care that he gave us.”
Jennings and Gilbreath were inspired last year to find Rob, whose last name they didn’t know, after watching the movie “Miracles From Heaven,” in which a girl tells a story of visiting heaven and then starts to recover from her fatal condition. The movie, Gilbreath and Jennings said, brought back memories of Jennings' cardiac arrest.
"I always felt bad that I never was able to properly thank him," Gilbreath said of Rob.
Jennings, who moved to from California to Iowa with her family at age 5, posted a photo on Facebook of herself holding a poster with a plea for help finding Rob.
Within 48 hours, Jennings and Gilbreath heard from the wife of the nurse, Rob Newbold.
“I started hearing from friends saying, ‘Somebody is looking for you,’” Newbold, who lives in Redlands, California, told ABC News. “Eventually my wife showed me the post and that’s how it started.”
Newbold, 73, retired around seven years ago after nearly 30 years as a nurse. He said hearing from Jennings “made my day.”
“It made me really feel good that somebody would remember me,” he said. “I worked in the pediatric ICU at Loma Linda nearly my whole career so I saw lots and lots of sick children.
He continued, “It was so nice to hear of a good outcome and to have them contact me.”
Newbold, Jennings and Gilbreath communicated by Facebook, phone and letters for many months. When Newbold made plans to visit his brother in Chicago last month, he rented a car and made the four-hour drive to Dubuque, Iowa, where Gilbreath and Jennings live.
“We were like family from the moment we met [in Iowa],” Newbold said. “They treated me so nicely….I was a little overwhelmed.”
Newbold spent two days with Jennings and her family, which now includes her husband and newborn daughter. A surrogate gave birth to Jennings’ daughter, Elleora, in May since Jennings’ heart condition prohibits her from carrying a baby.
“It was full circle,” Jennings said of introducing Newbold to her own daughter. “He kept saying, ‘I was probably feeding you at this age and now I’m feeding your daughter.’”