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Video: ‘The Bionic Bride’ gets a new heart

TODAY contributor
updated 10/12/2011 9:56:25 AM ET 2011-10-12T13:56:25

Don’t call Ally Smith Babineaux the “Bionic Bride” anymore — call her “Miracle Bride.” The 23-year-old Texan has beaten the odds once again by undergoing a successful heart transplant just as her life hung in the balance.

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Ally became one of TODAY’s best-loved feel-good sagas during previous appearances as she discussed the groundbreaking heart pump doctors implanted that enabled her to wed college sweetheart Mike Babineaux on June 26, 2010, despite her progressive heart disease.

But her story took a decidedly dire turn last January, when her heart deteriorated to the point that the “Heart Mate II” device that took over her heart’s pumping no longer worked. Her parents, Ronnie and Krista Smith, called TODAY and said “She needs a miracle.”

Video: Bionic bride’s wedding was emotional ‘rebirth’ (on this page)

And one arrived. In a coma and possibly just hours away from perishing, Ally suddenly improved on the very same day a donor heart became available, allowing her to not only undergo a transplant, but survive the surgery.

Thus on Wednesday, a vibrant Ally appeared with her parents and cardiologist Dr. Roberta Bogaev on TODAY — a visit that seemed very unlikely only months before.

‘God willed it’
“A miracle — God does miracles,” Krista Smith told Matt Lauer. Ronnie Smith added: “It’s just an amazing thing. God willed it and it happened, and we’re just blessed.”

Ally told Lauer she now feels “amazing, actually better than I thought I would feel” — a dramatic contrast to the dark days when the new bride’s life hung in the balance.

Related: Bionic heart keeps bride, 22, alive

Ally Smith and Mike Babineaux fell in love while attending Texas A&M University. But in 2007, after just six months of dating, Ally was diagnosed with viral cardiomyopathy, a heart virus often a precursor to total heart failure.

Even though Ally’s health was going steadily downhill, Mike proposed in September 2008. But just days later, Ally’s deteriorating heart caused her body to shut down. Doctors feared a life-saving heart transplant might come too late — only 5 percent of needed transplant patients are lucky enough to receive them.

So instead, they decided to implant the “Heart Mate II” — an electronic pump that would do the heart’s work for it and buy time until a heart donor match could be found.  But there were no guarantees, and Ally found herself planning her own wedding and funeral at the same time.

In 2009, doctors implanted Ally Smith with a mechanical pump that took over the work of her weakened heart.

‘I just love her’
Acknowledging her grave condition, Ally told her fiance she would understand if he didn’t want to go through with the wedding. But he would have none of it. In a 2010 interview, he told Lauer: “I just love her, and no one in my life could replace her. I want to see it through the end, all the way.”

After one failed implant surgery that Ally barely survived, doctors successfully implanted the heart pump on June 26, 2009 — and a year later to the day, Ally walked down the aisle with Mike as the “Bionic Bride.”

Story: For the ‘Bionic Bride,’ her wedding was ‘like a rebirth’

Doctors hoped that the pump would give Ally’s heart time to heal itself, eliminating the need for a heart transplant. Sadly, it was wishful thinking.

Image: Ally Smith Babineaux
A bionic pump enabled Ally to wed her fiance in June 2010 despite her damaged heart. But within months, her condition took a grave turn.

In January 2011, just six weeks after Ally appeared on TODAY to talk about her new married life with Mike in Corpus Christi, Texas, she became gravely ill — her heart’s strength had waned to the point that the pump no longer worked. Doctors hoped to keep her alive long enough to receive a heart transplant, but she suffered total organ shutdown and had to be put into a medically induced coma.

But then another seeming medical miracle occurred, Against all odds, Ally’s vital signs improved over the course of a night, and on Feb. 9, she was able to survive the transplant of a heart that had just become available.

Story: ‘Bionic bride’ still in critical condition, but ‘a little better’

Today Ally can laugh about the day of her surgery. At the time, when Lauer and Ann Curry offered her best wishes for the surgery over the air, a heavily sedated Ally thought their voices were coming from her room, not her hospital television.

“I remember I could hear you talking, and I thought you all were all there, that you all had flown in and (were) standing next to me!” Ally told Lauer.

Video: Bionic bride ‘normal’ after heart pump saves her life (on this page)

‘Life can be short’
The surgery was successful, and while the recovery process hasn’t been easy, Ally was the picture of health on TODAY Wednesday. As a bonus of her new heart, she’s now free of the battery pack that came with her bionic pump, which made a swim or a shower off limits, along with anything other than mild exercise.

Lauer asked Dr. Bogaev if Ally is close to returning to normal. “She’s already normal, Matt,” the doctor replied. “She can do anything you can do.”

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Ally added she’s now living “probably beyond a normal life.” After a four-year battle with her condition, she’s taking full advantage of feeling good again, knowing she came within a hair’s breadth of dying.

“I think I push things farther that most people probably would, just knowing that life can be too short,” she told Lauer. “I might as well do the things I never thought I would be able to do.”

Video: ‘The Bionic Bride’ gets a new heart (on this page)

Ally has big travel plans with Mike, who stayed home in Texas Wednesday for work commitments. Ally told Lauer the person who donated a heart that gave her new life is never far from her thoughts, and that she’d like to meet the family of the donor.

“Of course, we don’t know each other yet, but I want to tell them that their family member is still here,” Ally told Lauer. “They’re allowing me to do the things I wasn’t able to do.”

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