DUBUQUE, Iowa (AP) — A rare heart defect hasn't slowed down Christina "Mousie" Less.
If anything, tricuspid atresia has spurred the 26-year-old Dubuque resident to keep going and to give.
"She is a remarkable young lady who — when she has a bump in the road — turns it around and gives back to the community," said Jean Mottet, a family friend from Dyersville, Iowa. "She's constantly doing small or large acts of kindness."
The Telegraph Herald reports (http://bit.ly/117xfyK) tricuspid atresia meant Less was born with no tricuspid valve, so blood couldn't flow from the right atrium to the right ventricle in her heart. She had three open-heart surgeries before age 3 and another in February 2012.
Spending that much time in hospitals gave Less an appreciation of patients and family members who often find themselves frightened and anxious.
"We have experienced times when I was in the emergency room and didn't have anything — no toothbrush or clean clothes. You're caught off guard," Less said.
Before her latest heart surgery, Less asked family, friends and co-workers for donations to stock care packages.
"One Sunday afternoon, my family and I put these packages together, and we included a little note that we hoped would make (patients') experience at the hospital a little easier," she said.
Less spent 10 days at the University of Iowa prior to her 2012 heart surgery and delivered the care packages to emergency room patients at the hospital.
"It's just overwhelming when you think what she has done," Mottet said. "For the last several years, she has hosted a dinner at Christmas. Her friends bring a toy, and the toys are donated to the hospitals."
Less began giving back at an early age.
"In the third grade, she raised $1,000 for Make-A-Wish," Mottet said. "She thought of it, she wrote the letter and she got the donations."
Less received the Make-A-Wish Foundation's Children Helping Children Award in 1994.
"My family has always wanted to give back," Less said.
Less can't predict when or if she might require another heart surgery.
"I have outlived every expectation any doctor has ever given me," she said. "I think a lot of it depends on the people you surround yourself with. Going through this last surgery, I healed very quickly. I don't think I could have done that without the prayers and positive vibes."
Information from: Telegraph Herald, http://www.thonline.com