Walk for Kids

The start of the 2012 Walk for Kids event benefiting Ronald McDonald House Charities of Southern California. (Photo by JUAN OCAMPO / April 1, 2012)

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Julieanne Papa noticed something odd during her 18-week ultrasound in late March 2011.

It looked like her baby's heart had only two chambers.

"Aren't there supposed to be four?" the Costa Mesa mother of two asked the technician.

The following day, a high-risk ultrasound revealed that Julieanne and Tyrus Papa's child suffered from a congenital defect called hypoplastic left heart syndrome.

"I tried really hard not to cry because I wanted all of the information the doctor was going to give me," said Julieanne Papa, 36. "But the second I stepped out of those doors and into the parking lot, I put my glasses on and the tears started going."

She began researching the rare condition in which the left ventricle is severely underdeveloped and started surrounding herself with a strong medical team.

Brooklyn was born Aug. 18 at St. Joseph Hospital — a day before her parents' wedding anniversary so "she could have her own birthday," Julieanne Papa said.

She was immediately transferred to the Children's Hospital Orange County and underwent open-heart surgery five days later. But even though her health progressed steadily for two weeks and there was talk of her being discharged soon, Brooklyn died at 3:49 a.m. Sept. 1.

"It was devastating," Papa said. "I asked if I could hold her. We spent time alone with her and then started calling my family."

Looking back on the short time she shared with her daughter, Papa is grateful that she stayed mere steps from the hospital at the Orange County Ronald McDonald House.

On Sunday, she will join thousands of local residents at the Honda Center, in Anaheim, and participate in a 5K Walk for Kids to raise funds for and awareness of the Ronald McDonald House Charities of Southern California.

"I had absolutely no idea that Brooklyn was going to pass — we were all so confident because she was doing so well," Papa said. "So if I had spent less time with her, I would regret it. I think the biggest thing that the Ronald McDonald House gave me was proximity to her so I could spend all of my time with her."

The family paid $10 for every night spent in one of the facility's 20 rooms and had access to public computers, a common area and a kitchen. Mindful of the fact that she got a meal without having to drive a half-hour and was able to spend time with her family while also being on hand for Brooklyn's doctors' rounds, Papa said her family decided to continue serving the Ronald McDonald House.

Along with volunteering regularly, the 36-person family — including siblings, spouses and grandparents — have supported the organization's annual community fundraiser. The Walk for Kids last year attracted about 21,000 people across four Southern California locations — Orange County, Los Angeles, Ontario and Long Beach.

"There's great energy, lots of fun and it's wonderful to see families who have used our services formerly coming back," said Deborah Levy, executive director of the Orange County Ronald McDonald House. "Some families that are currently staying with us are also planning to walk. It's really special."

Labeled by staff as a "ya'll come" kind of event, the Walk for Kids hit its target of $1.5 million last year. Participants elect which program they want to support and donate anywhere from $10 to thousands of dollars, Levy said. She expects a large crowd for the fourth annual event on Sunday, helping the organization to earn $2 million as hoped.

Anaheim Mayor Tom Tait and Ducks defenseman Scott Niedermayer and his wife, Lisa, will address the crowd during an 8 a.m. opening reception, as will the Papas, this year's ambassador family. Teams and individuals who have raised the most funds will also be recognized.

Vendors will be offering complimentary family-friendly services like a bounce house, obstacle course and face painting, while restaurants will donate food.

According to Papa, 157 people will walk as part of her team, which includes friends, family and church members — all clad in bright green T-shirts with "Brooklyn" printed on them. So far, the group has raised nearly $10,000.

Papa, who drew on her religious faith and underwent counseling to cope with Brooklyn's death, is 24 weeks pregnant. She recently shared with her family the news that they will soon have a baby girl in their midst.

"I knew there was a reason," she said. "I know that Brooklyn was an incredibly special spirit and she was meant to be here to touch our lives. As hard as it is for us, and this might sound weird, but it's made us better people."

rhea.mahbubani@latimes.com

Twitter: @RMahbubani

If You Go

What: Walk for Kids

Where: 2695 E. Katella Ave., Anaheim

When: Check-in starts at 6:30 p.m. Sunday; the opening reception is at 8 a.m.; the walk begins at 8:30 a.m.

Cost: Free

Information: http://www.walkforkids.org