Angel with a heart of gold
Luka-Angel underwent a 16-hour operation for a new heart. The brave teenager is now waiting for her wish to act on TV or in a movie to come true.
Thinking of others first
In a medical sense, Luka-Angel’s heart was almost broken.
But by every other measure, her heart was working just fine.
As she visited Melbourne to go to appointments for her rare genetic heart condition, Luka-Angel couldn’t help but notice something on their family walks in the CBD.
She was only 8 or 9, but something moved the young girl from Newcastle.
“I couldn’t help noticing in the city homeless people were sitting on cardboard boxes,” Luka-Angel said.
“I really wanted to help them so I used to stack my pockets with coins every time I went into the city so when I saw someone I could give them a dollar or provide them some food.”
Mum Angela recalls hearing a jingling sound from Luka-Angel’s pockets.
“I would hear her pockets rattle and I was like ‘where are you getting this money’, and she said she had been saving her pocket money,” Angela said.
Luka-Angel said the homeless people were generally sweet to her.
“I would make sure to say ‘God bless’ and look them in the eyes,” she said. “Sometimes, they would start conversations, and we would just have a chat.
“I have this really big dream now to set up a homeless shelter. I think I was 11 or 12 when I started making jewellery to sell and raise money. I also speak at churches and just raise awareness for it (homelessness) and heaps of money because the ultimate dream is to have a shelter.”
Challenges after "horrific day"
Now 17 years old, Luka-Angel and her younger brother Jazziah were diagnosed on the same day as children with the rare genetic heart condition, restrictive cardiomyopathy. It was December 2009: Jazz was 3, Luka-Angel was 6. The condition means with time, the ventricles of their hearts wouldn’t get enough blood to continue pumping properly. They would both need heart transplants to continue living.
“It was a horrific day,” wish mum Angela recalled.
“My husband Lucas and I were so crushed by it. At the same time, we thought we had two cheerful, gorgeous little people. In front of them, we would put on such a brave face, and we wouldn’t tell people. We just wanted them to be treated normally. We just wanted them to be Luka and Jazz.”
No dancing as life slows down
Luka-Angel said she and Jazz became really good friends growing up, often referring to themselves as “twins” because they faced the same medical journey.
She would in later years help Jazz negotiate the same treatment path she had walked, often underplaying some of the more uncomfortable processes to put Jazz’s mind at ease.
Luka-Angel said her own path was difficult, finding it frustrating she couldn’t do her much-loved dancing.
“It was just really hard to be a kid and not run around, and sit on the sidelines when all my friends were playing sport,” she said.
“Even the hospital visits and missing so much school and falling behind; it was all hard.”
Angela said the moment she realised Luka-Angel was not coping was during a family beach cricket session.
“We were all playing beach cricket, and she decided to just sit on a picnic rug with my mum,” Angela said.
“It was the first time I felt my little girl had given up a little bit.”
With Luka-Angel’s constantly finding herself short of breath and her heart rate “jumping all over the place”, she was ultimately the one who told her parents when it was time for a new heart.
“One night she said ‘if you don’t put me on that (transplant waiting) list I’m going to Melbourne and put myself on that list’,” Angela said.
The call came late one night, and the next morning the family headed to Melbourne for Luka-Angel’s heart transplant.
Complications, then a miracle
Luka-Angel wasn’t scared of the operation, which happened on Father’s Day. She said her faith kept her calm and strong.
“I was really at peace and knew God had a bigger plan, and I just had to trust him,” she said.
“I was just so excited I didn’t think about what I would have to go through.”
Sadly, there were complications, and what was supposed to be an eight-hour operation, went twice as long. Luka-Angel remembers being resuscitated and hooked-up to life support.
“She was very, very ill,” her mum Angela said. “Both the external pacemakers had failed.
“It took 16 hours before we could see our little girl. When we did see her, I nearly passed out. Her chest was open, and she had the full life support machine. She had all this blood being pumped into her.”
Angela said Luka-Angel was on life support for five days but recovered, leaving the hospital with a pacemaker after a month.
“We really believe we had a miracle,” Angela said.
“We really respect our cardiology teams, all the incredible doctors we have met at The Royal Children’s Hospital in Melbourne.”
Focus on acting wish
Before she could put her dancing shoes on, Luka-Angel had to learn to walk again. Her first joyful cartwheel was eight weeks post-op and a few months further on she was back dancing.
Luka-Angel’s wish is to have the chance to act in a TV show or movie. Due to COVID-19, Luka-Angel’s wish like so many others is currently on hold.
However, she’s been preparing all her life for her moment in front of her camera.
“She’s done acting at school and been in a musical,” Angela said.
“And she’s done some audition videos and been memorising scripts.”
To help build up anticipation for her wish, Luka-Angel recently got some tips from veteran Australian actor Kevin Harrington.
“I got to ask him heaps of questions in a Zoom call,” Luka-Angel said. “It was really educational.”
Luka-Angel said she was so pleased Make-A-Wish was working towards making her wish come true.
“When they said they would grant my wish, I was so excited because I love to act, it was the best thing ever. It gives me something to look forward to every day,” she said.
Thank you, Make-A-Wish supporters!
Like many other wishes, Luka-Angel’s wish is currently on hold. The outbreak of COVID-19 has caused massive disruption in the funding of wishes. Most wish children face extended isolation due to the pandemic, and it’s just not safe enough for their wishes to come true at the moment. By donating today, you can help support children like Luka-Angel through this difficult period.
Luka means bringer of light and Angel means messenger of God and she certainly lives up to both of those names.Angela mum to wish child Luka-Angel, 17, restrictive cardiomyopathy
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