ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (WFLA) — For 10-month-old baby Marissa, every day is a miracle. As her sweet face beams with happiness, grinning ear to ear, her parents are the ones experiencing sheer joy. Their daughter is alive.
It started with a seemingly innocuous fever several months ago. But, after their little girl’s temperature began getting higher and higher, coupled with an odd cough, doctors ran some tests and made a heartbreaking discovery.
They realized Marissa was suffering from a severely enlarged heart, a condition they call dilated cardio myopathy. “The doctors told us that her heart couldn’t get any worse,” Marissa’s mother told WFLA. “But, we prayed and were put on a transplant list. We were on it for just a month, and she got a new heart. We are blessed.”
Indeed, the pint-size patient with the new heart of gold recently went through transplant surgery at Johns Hopkins all Children’s Hospital in St. Petersburg.
Her mom and dad are now breathing a sigh of relief after months of heartache. Ask any parent, and they’ll tell you – seeing your child suffer and go through a life-threatening condition is both heartbreaking and draining.
Marissa’s parents had many long days and sleepless nights. But, as they’ve gone through the entire experience – there’s been a helping hand in Tampa Bay that saved their life, they tell us, along with their sanity – the love and support from the nearby Ronald McDonald house, where moms and dads stay as their children recover in the hospital.
On this Thanksgiving, Marissa’s father admits, he didn’t know what they were going to do for the holiday. They certainly didn’t feel like cooking. Making a meal was the farthest thing from their minds. That’s when a well-known Bay Area hero stepped in and saved the day. You could say – he scored the ultimate touchdown!
Buccaneer great Mike Alstott and his wife Nicole stepped in and did the cooking for the day. And, their kitchen game is strong. They know, as the parents of three girls, when your little one is sick, your entire focus shifts.
The record-breaking fullback explained to us that while he experienced glory and greatness on the football field, it’s his parenting skills, along with his wife Nicole, that he is the proudest of in life.
Mike told WFLA, “This holiday is all about blessings. That’s what Thanksgiving is, giving thanks for blessings and health and praying for each other and being together. That’s why we do this. We want these families to not worry about anything and enjoy your turkey dinner.”
His wife Nicole loves being able to serve others in their time of need. She cooks all night and looks forward to prepping the kitchen for families at the Ronald McDonald House. When she described what it was like to provide the meal, she had tears in her eyes.
“I’m so thankful for so many things in my life that I’m glad I get to do this for people I feel very blessed,” she said.
As for Marissa’s father, Angel Santiago, he is full of gratitude. He held his daughter and his arms, smiling as he looked at her.
“To do this for us in a time of need when we didn’t even know what we were going to do today, it’s just been great! Best Buc ever,” he said.
The Alstott’s have enjoyed serving families at the Ronald McDonald house for the last eight years. They say they will continue to do just that – give back to the community that gave them so much.
For them, it is the greatest gift, the one that wins the game every time – the gift of love and life.