Her name means conqueror, winner, victor. And, boy, does she do her name justice.
She kicked cancer's sorry butt, and when the chemo treatments damaged her heart, she saw a transplant through with style and grace.
Indeed, Victoria Grace Waters, a spirited 3-year-old who lives in Huntersville with her parents Craig and Cyndi Waters, has already proven that when it comes to life, she's in to win.
Victoria's story began in 2006 when she was born prematurely at 35 weeks. It wasn't until she was 1 month old, though, that she was diagnosed with acute myelogenous leukemia (AML), which, according to the National Marrow Donor Program (www.marrow.org), usually affects older adults. The average age for AML patients is 65, and less than 10 percent of those with AML are children.
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Craig, a real estate appraiser, and Cyndi, a stay-at-home mom, were in shock at the diagnosis, since it was originally thought that their only daughter just had milk intolerance.
Upon hearing the dreaded cancer diagnosis, Craig "went numb" and "felt like I couldn't breathe."
That day, their newborn daughter began her cancer treatment, and miraculously, after just one round of chemotherapy, she went into remission. Victoria finished six rounds of chemotherapy, but the early signs of the treatment's success reassured the Waters family.
The remaining side effect of the chemotherapy, though, was a big one: Victoria had a damaged heart, which doctors first thought could be treated with medication.
"We can deal with that," thought Craig and Cyndi.
In late June 2009, however, doctors told the Waters that Victoria's heart had deteriorated to that point that she needed a transplant.
Ironically, Craig and Cyndi "didn't break down this time," Craig said. We "knew this was a possibility," as doctors had given them a worst case scenario when Victoria's heart condition was first diagnosed.
We knew we had to "do like we did before, just pray and have a positive mindset," Craig said. "What can you do? You just have to go forward."
Cyndi said she experienced the "gamut of emotions" upon hearing the diagnosis, but said, "You can't really let yourself go...you have to be strong, because you don't have a choice."
The Waters' faith also helped them keep a positive outlook.
"God has just blessed us all with the peace," Craig said.
And that faith paid off in a big way: Just shy of being on the transplant list six months, Victoria got a new heart on Jan. 8.
The surgery went as "smooth as the surgeon hoped it would go," Craig said.
After just one week of recovery in the hospital, Victoria was released, and she's now rebounding wonderfully. She has regained her appetite and will soon lose the feeding tube she was once reliant upon. The little girl who doesn't even wince when getting a shot is also back to active 3-year-old status.
"I was in tears almost," Cyndi said when Victoria was able to pedal her tricycle without feeling exhausted.
Naturally, the Waters' are unendingly appreciative to Victoria's donor family.
Craig said he and his wife could "never thank them enough."
The difference the new heart made for his daughter is remarkable.
"She got the transplant on Friday, and Monday she was sitting up in her bed, laughing and smiling," Craig said.
Cyndi said she hopes that in addition to "putting a face to donors," Victoria's story will also shine a light on finding better cancer drugs for children.
"You don't realize how many kids have cancer...it's a life-long thing these kids have to deal with."
That rigorous cancer treatment left Victoria with a long list of don'ts. There are some things, like digging in the dirt (because of airborne spores) and changing a litter box, Victoria will never be able to do.
Victoria, though, isn't intimidated by any "don't" list. She's proven that she can take anything life throws her way and come out on top.
She is, after all, a conqueror, a winner, a victor.