Piper Paddock is only 7 months old — and she’s already undergone an astonishing six heart surgeries.
The “fighter,” as her parents call her, was diagnosed with a rare heart defect of the tricuspid valve. She’s now preparing for her seventh (and hopefully final) procedure. Her parents, both New York state troopers, are confident their daughter will survive.
“She’s our little trooper,” Piper’s mother, Gia Paddock, tells PEOPLE. “She is so outgoing and happy go lucky. She’s facing so much, but she’s so strong and determined.”
“We had a normal vaginal birth, but they rushed her to the hospital and she had her first surgery at 36 hours,” says Gia, 32. “We had a lot of complications and multiple other procedures in the span of two months.
“Her chest was open and closed and open and closed.”
Gia says seeing her daughter undergo so many operations in the first few months of her life was “draining.”
“I cried every day. We were here together every single day,” she says. “I didn’t leave her side. All I wanted to do was hold her and see her with her eyes open.”
Gia and her husband, Tim Paddock, 38, live in Canandaigua, New York, but have a temporary apartment in Boston as Piper receives treatments. Tim commutes back and forth from his job as a state trooper.
“It’s funny we actually met while I was doing field training,” says Gia, who tied the knot with Tim in 2015. “At the end of training he asked me to dinner and we fell in love.
“We have trooper in our genes, which is why we say Pier is our little ‘trooper’ through all of this.”
Piper’s surgeon at Boston Children’s Hospital, Dr. Sitaram Emani, says she’s “one of the most amazing fighters” he’s ever seen.
“Her condition is severe and a type that is usually associate with a 50-50 chance of survival,” Emani, associate professor at surgery at Harvard and director of Boston Children’s Hospital Heart Center’s Complex Biventricular Repair Program, tells PEOPLE. “It’s one of the cardiac conditions that is most feared in our community because there really isn’t a very easy or great option and many kids can be very sick after birth.
“There were times we didn’t think she’d survive but she held our hand and said, ‘No you can do this!’ ”
Piper has tolerated her multiple surgeries “incredibly well” according to Emani and her prognosis looks good.
“She’s gaining strength and getting bigger and my next operation will hopefully be her last and will get her back to a normal circulation,” he says. “Her prognosis longterm is very good.”
“It’s crazy to think she has only a small chance to live and now she has a chance to live a long, normal life,” says Gia. “We just have so much faith and trust.”
Piper is in physical therapy, occupational therapy and feeding clinics as she prepares to undergo her seventh procedure.
“Hopefully one day she will be the kid that can do everything,” says Gia. “I hope Piper’s story can give hope to other parents with kids who have congenital heart defects.”