GAINESVILLE, Ga. (FOX 5 Atlanta) - Kayla and Jason Majors' daughter McKinley gets a lot of love when she stops in at the Sibley Heart Center in Gainesville, where the Blairsville toddler is a frequent flyer.
"She is very strong-willed, very feisty," her mother says.
At 11 months, McKinley is the youngest of the Majors' 5 children, and the only girl.
Kayla Majors was 22 weeks pregnant in 2018, when she went in for a routine ultrasound, that changed their lives.
"And you could just feel in the room that something was wrong," she remembers.
A cyst on her baby's neck was the first sign of a major problem.
The main pumping chamber of McKinley's heart had never developed.
So, instead of having 2 ventricles, she was born with one.
Dr. Wesley Lindsey, McKinley's cardiologist, says living with one ventricle is like having half your motor missing.
"So if half of your motor is missing, you can't run as fast, you can't jump as high, you can't go as long," Lindsey explains.
About 1 out of every 100 babies is in the U.S. born with a congenital heart defect.
"Most CHD doesn't have a really good explanation for why it happens," Lindsey says. "We see a lot of people who blame themselves and feel like it might have been something they did that caused it."
McKinley spent her first six months in and out of the hospital, on oxygen to help her breathe, getting nutrition through a feeding tube, trying to get big enough, and strong enough for open heart surgery.
"Those were some really tough days," McKayla Majors says. "The closer it got to surgery, we did start to see her decline. She would sleep most of the day, she didn't want to play, she would be really sweaty."
At 6 months, she was finally ready for the operation to redirect blood flow through her heart.
It was a turning point.
"Since then, she's totally off oxygen," her mom says. "She's totally off the feeding tube. She's started taking a bottle at 7 months old."
McKinley Majors still has some catching up to do.
She'll need another heart repair surgery in a few years.
But her parents are grateful for every step their heart warrior's takes.