SAN MARCOS, Calif. – Last Thanksgiving, Deanna Kremis was in heart failure and could barely get off the couch -- and her two teenage sons knew exactly how she felt.
Matthew, 17, and Trevin, 13, suffer from the same inherited cardiac condition as their mom and both had received life-saving heart transplants in 2007, within weeks of each other.
Kremis, who wasn't diagnosed until 2003, finally received her own heart transplant in July, leaving all three with something very big to celebrate this holiday season.
"We laugh a lot as a family," Kremis, 44, told The San Diego Union-Tribune. "Considering what we've been through, we appreciate every moment we have together."
The three all have a genetic condition called hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, which thickens the wall of the heart muscle until it can no longer contract properly.
The disease is also shared by Kremis' brother and mother and her late grandmother.
Most family members can control the disease's effects with medication and implanted pacemakers, but Kremis and her sons haven't fared as well.
As a child, Matthew didn't have the energy to run or play, had a hard time breathing, struggled to climb stairs and his circulation was so poor his skin was pale it was almost transparent.
Trevin was healthier as a toddler, but by age 6, his condition grew so serious he needed open-heart surgery.
The family was living in Arizona in March 2007 when they learned that both Matthew and Trevin urgently needed new hearts.
They moved to Southern California to live with Kremis' parents and within six weeks, Matthew had a new heart. Trevin's transplant took place weeks later.
Kremis, however, didn't need to be put on the transplant list until last year.
On July 4, she received the heart of a 14-year-old boy.
All three family members struggle with the side effects of medications to prevent their bodies from rejecting the donor hearts.
They get violent tremors and fatigue and both boys have osteoporosis from the steroids they must take daily.
The boys need check-ups every few months and the family will live for the foreseeable future with Kremis' parents in San Marcos to be close to their doctors.
Their medical bills are staggering -- $1 million for the boys' transplants combined -- and they make monthly payments to chip away at them.
Despite the challenges, the family says they are happy to be together and to be alive.
"My life has only gotten better," said Matthew, who plans to study auto mechanics at a trade school when he graduates next spring. "When I think about what I was like six years ago and what I'm like now, there's no comparison."