When Miyu walked in the HappyDoll office with a big bright smile, we were taken aback.
She was energetic, talkative, cheerful, and most of all, healthy.
We couldn't believe she had gone through an intense surgery just a couple months ago. Yes, an intense surgery. A heart transplant to be exact.
Miyu had just started her freshman year of middle school when she was diagnosed with a rare heart disease called restrictive cardiomyopathy, a condition in which the walls of the lower chambers of the heart are abnormally rigid, unable to properly fill with blood. It is the rarest form of cardiomyopathy which only affects 1 in 500,000 people in Japan.
"We found out at the physical examination for school," said Miyu laughing a little. "I always wondered why I was out of breath during P.E. class and sweating all the time--we didn't know for 13 years."
No cure has been found for this disease which eventually leads to heart failure and death--except for heart transplant. Miyu needed a new heart.
Although the new organ transplant law in Japan allows children under 15 to donate their organs, there are few available in the country. Luckily, with the help of the local support in Okinawa, Miyu was able to fly to New York in April with her family to wait for a heart transplant at the Columbia University Medical Center. 20 days later, she was in the surgery room.
If you haven't guessed already, the operation was a huge success! When we asked Miyu what the first thing on her mind was when she woke up on the hospital bed, she answered bashfully "TUNA SASHIMI." She has been on a restricted diet pre AND post-surgery.
"The toughest part about this whole thing was not being able to eat what I wanted," she said with a big smile.
It was our good friend from Okinawa who first told us about Miyu. Okinawa is the most southern prefecture in Japan, made up of chains of beautiful islands. The people are known for their warm and jovial characters and their unique culture, influenced by China and other East Asian countries, that sets them apart from the rest of Japan. For a teenage girl, we couldn't imagine how scary and difficult the transition from a beautiful island to the big apple could be. We immediately reached out to become a contact in the city for any type of support and sent her a HappyDoll kit. We wanted her to know that we were thinking of her.
It was a very special moment when we saw Miyu walk into our office with a HappyDoll in her hand. She named this HappyDoll YUKI, after her younger brother, who has been very supportive of his sister through this hard time.
She also brought the HappyDoll made by YUKI. Now we have our very first HappyDoll siblings!
Miyu with her mother, Naomi. The HappyDoll on the left was made by YUKI, Miyu's younger brother. Miyu's HappyDoll is wearing a T-shirt with the Japanese Kanji "warai" which means "laughter" .
In return for the two lovely HappyDolls they had made for us, we gave Miyu a beautiful HappyDoll, made by Becky.
The more we spoke to Miyu, the more we were inspired by her positive outlook on life. "I want to play with friends," she said. "I may even start playing tennis again!" Her mother, Naomi, says there are no words to express her gratitude to the people who helped save her daughter's life. She said to Miyu, " Whether in Japan, or anywhere else in the world, find what you like and live it to the fullest. Your world is full of possibilities now."
This brave young lady with a big new heart is planning to return to Japan in November. Miyu, thank you for the inspiration and we wish you the best of luck to the beginning of a new chapter of life!
check out her website (in Japanese)to learn more about Miyu, her family and the people who supported her.