MaryAnn LaBarbiera of Paramus was fully prepared last month to host an ailing Filipino baby and his mother.
Or so she thought.
The very day baby Lucas and his mom Ana Mallaria were arriving in the U.S. for life changing heart surgery, however, Paramus Police Sergeant Brian Linden spotted a problem.
The car seat.
It was outdated. Unsafe. Downright dangerous.
Linden wanted to be sure that almost-2-year-old Lucas -- who was being sponsored by the Paramus Rotary Club through the Gift of Life program -- would be as safe as possible during his three-week stay in the U.S.
That meant a safe car seat.
Linden called The Fashion Center's Buy Buy Baby and explained the situation. Within the hour, the company donated a brand new car seat for baby Lucas -- which the sergeant installed the moment LaBarbiera pulled into Paramus.
"It's a whole circle of life," LaBarbiera told Daily Voice, noting the Paramus Rotary Club is responsible for bringing Gift of Life children like Lucas to the U.S.
"It's a whole community that came together to help this little baby."
Linden noted that the car seat could have been as lifesaving for Lucas as the surgery, should anything have happened traveling to and from the Maria Fareri Children's Hospital in Westchester, N.Y.
"A child's body is still developing and is physiologically different than an adult's body," said Linden, who installs car seats for parents on the third Friday of every month at the Paramus Police Department.
"Therefore, they need to be restrained differently also."
Lucas was born in July 2016 with a heart murmur. His mother knew there was a bigger problem when he was two months old.
An echocardiogram found that Lucas had a ventricular septal defect (VSD); a hole in the wall between his heart's lower chambers.
Doctors told Mallaria it was only going to get worse if Lucas didn't have surgery.
But that was something she couldn't afford.
Mallaria posted her story on social media, which ultimately got the attention of someone else whose child had his VSD fixed thanks to the Gift of Life program through the Paramus Rotary Club.
In April 2017, Mallaria submitted her application. Six months later, it was approved.
It has been just more than two weeks since Lucas' surgery, and Mallaria already notices a difference in her baby, who has gained eight pounds since the surgery.
"He finally looks healthy," she said. "I can't explain how grateful and happy I am for all of this."
This was the second time that LaBarbiera -- whose husband is Paramus Mayor Richard LaBarbiera -- hosted a Gift of Life family. And she'd do it again in a heartbeat.
"People ask me why I do it and I tell them because I can," the mom of three said.
"I was given a beautiful life and I have a beautiful life and it’s such a wonderful feeling to save a life."
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