Ten months ago, Dustin Garcia was just like any other teenager.
She went to school at Santa Gertrudis Academy High School in Kingsville and hung out with her friends, who all refer to her as "Dusti." She spent her after-school time being involved in a variety of sports, including volleyball, basketball and softball, all while keeping her grades in the "A/B" category.
That was all before the diagnosis.
In January 2010, while Dusti was playing in a basketball game in Driscoll, the teen complained about chest pains. She had struggled with periods of breathlessness following athletic activities, but doctors had attributed it to asthma, even prescribing inhalers for her to use. They had no effect, Dusti said.
But the chest pains were more frightening and more severe, she said. Soon after they began, Dusti blacked out. Delia Gomez, Dusti's mother, said the blackouts would happen a few more times over the next few months.
After attending a concert in May, Dusti developed an infection that Delia worried might be staph. Delia took her daughter to the emergency room for treatment and mentioned the blackouts to the doctor who was treating the teen.
"That was when they sent her to the cardiologist, and everything went downhill after that," Delia said.
The doctors discovered Dusti had an enlarged heart. One week later, she was diagnosed with restrictive cardiomyopathy.
According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine-National Institutes of Health, restrictive cardiomyopathy refers to a group of disorders in which the heart chambers are unable to properly fill with blood because of stiffness in the heart.
In restrictive cardiomyopathy, the heart is of normal size or only slightly enlarged. However, it cannot relax normally during the time between heartbeats when the blood returns from the body to the heart. Later in the disease, the heart may not pump blood efficiently, affecting the lungs, liver and other body systems.
There is no cure, and most patients are put on a waiting list for a heart transplant, where Dusti now finds herself. The teen and her mother now reside in Houston, living out of a motel as they wait, like countless others around the nation, for news on when that donor heart has become available.
The move has also led to painful changes for the teen. Dusti had to leave behind her boyfriend, friends and family, some of whom reside in Robstown, where her mother was born and raised. The pair recently returned home to attend the funeral for Dusti's grandfather, but visits are very rare.
The main reason, Delia said, is that Dusti must be deactivated from the transplant list whenever the family leaves Houston. She does not lose her spot, Delia said, but can't be notified if a donor heart becomes available. Dusti is reactivated once they return to Houston.
The situation, while difficult, has given Dusti and her mother a newfound appreciation for the importance of organ donation.
"I would have never known the need for it is so great," Dusti said, adding that she hopes others will opt into organ donation when renewing or obtaining their driver's license.
"This has really opened my eyes completely," Dusti said. "Don't take anything for granted. Going through what we've gone through, you change. All you can do is stay positive and keep the hope, keep the faith. Being negative is not going to get you anywhere."
Delia said she is proud of how her youngest daughter has handled this entire ordeal, adding the two of them have grown closer over the past year.
"We've always been close, but now it's like two peas in a pod," Dusti added.
Delia, who has a twin sister who still resides in the area, said it is Dusti's strength that has been an inspiration to her.
"Throughout the pregnancy, I knew I wanted a name to fit her uniqueness for surviving," Delia says. "I came up with 'Dustin' because it actually means 'fighter.' Either boy or girl, it was going to be that name."
Dusti said she is grateful for the support shown to her by friends and family, who have been selling T-shirts that have a biblical passage from Ezekiel 36:26 printed on the back: "I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you." She also said that she hopes to be back playing sports within a few years, if not sooner.
"My heart's too good to be bad," she said.