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Lanterns to Heaven event honors organ donors

Life changed for the Grams family in the year since Aria Rose, 2, received a new heart. Although the regular treks to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., are now farther apart, they've pulled up the carpets in their South Range home and stocked it with Aria in mind.

"We have Germ-X everywhere," said her mother Tara Grams. "There's Germ-X in every corner."

When Aria's older brothers come home from school, they sanitize their hands and change into clean pajamas.

"They're so protective of her," Grams said.

Therapists come in four days a week; Grams has become a full-time caregiver for Aria, who wore a mask most of the first year to protect her fragile immune system.

The other thing that changed as they waited for Aria's new heart was their view of organ donation. Other than checking the donor box on her license at 16, Grams hadn't given it another thought.

"We talk about it all the time now," Grams said. "It's an uncomfortable subject until you're faced with it."

Aria Rose went into cardiac arrest and collapsed weeks after her first birthday. She was diagnosed with restrictive cardiomyopathy and spent months on life support machines waiting for a transplant. A young girl named Aubrey saved Aria's life, providing the heart she needed.

"Aubrey is our hero," said Aria's grandmother, Billie Van Ert.

As they waited for a heart at the Mayo Clinic, they grew close to other families in the same situation. Some of those children were lost waiting for transplants that never came.

"People don't know how needed it is," Grams said.

Tuesday marks Aria's one-year anniversary with the new heart. To honor Aubrey and other donor families, the Grams will host a "Lanterns to Heaven" event 7:30-8:15 p.m. at the Barker's Island pavilion. Everyone is invited to to participate. Anyone wishing to release a sky lantern will need to provide their own.

"As parents who almost lost our little girl, we would like to show our love and appreciation for our donor family," the family wrote on a Facebook page for the event. "We are sending Aubrey and heroes like her a gift of love and light from Earth."

Aubrey's parents are planning to travel from Texas to the event, and will get to listen to Aria's heartbeat. It will be the first time the two families have met in person, although they've been in communication since shortly after the transplant.

"It's almost like you're family," Grams said.

The event is also a chance for the South Range couple to express their thanks for all the support they've received from family, friends and community members who rallied together to put on a benefit for Aria last year.

"I want people who gave and helped her to be there," Van Ert said. "We couldn't send out thank you notes to everyone."

To follow Aria's story, go to the Heart Warrior Princess Aria Rose page on Facebook.