“Julia loves making people smile,” said her mom, Valery (pictured above with Julia). “She makes people smile all the time.” But for years, this outgoing girl was prone to spells of fainting, followed by vomiting on regaining consciousness. In searching for a cause, her local doctor did an ultrasound of Julia’s abdomen — and was surprised to find two tumors on her left kidney.
Julia was referred to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital for treatment of a cancer called Wilms tumor, including surgery to remove the affected kidney, radiation therapy and chemotherapy. And at St. Jude, doctors finally determined the reason for Julia’s fainting.
“Their focus was the cancer, but they were also concerned and trying to figure out what was going on with her heart as well,” said Julia’s mom. Unrelated to the Wilms tumor, they discovered a congenital defect that was causing Julia’s heart to stop beating for up to nine seconds at a time, resulting in unconsciousness.
As soon as Julia was cancer-free, she received a pacemaker, and has not passed out since.
Though today 6-year-old Julia is again doing karate, gymnastics, singing and pageant competitions, her battle back was arduous. She fell prey to flu and other setbacks, and at one point weighed just 31 pounds.
In May 2016, Julia missed the St. Jude kindergarten graduation because she was in the intensive care unit. But the St. Jude School Program by Chili's takes special care to ensure that patients are able to celebrate special milestones, even while they’re in active treatment. So staff brought a kindergarten graduation celebration to her, complete with cap and gown, diploma, balloons and decorations and a photographer to commemorate the event. And Julia, as sick as she was, helped supply the smiles.