A doting mother pressed record on a camera, intent on capturing her daughter in one final, bittersweet moment.
The sounds of a sweet, infectious belly laugh filled the hospital room.
"She's happier than most people," said Amber Thomas of her daughter.
Three-year-old Emily Thomas, with her brown hair and rosy cheeks, looked like any other kid as she smiled and laughed.
"Her laugh is the most beautiful sound. She has a really funny sense of humor," Thomas said, recalling the week before her daughter's surgery. "I had to sit there and stare at her and know I wasn't going to hear her next week."
Emily was about to undergo a life-saving surgery, a permanent tracheotomy. The procedure would enable her to breathe but would put a hole in her neck and render her unable to communicate vocally for the rest of her life.
For Amber Thomas, it was the only choice. But it also meant silencing one of the only sounds her daughter could make.
Emily's communication has been limited ever since she had a stroke at 10 days old, but her mother said they always found a way to talk. It was through those precious laughs, or the noises she'd shout during Dora The Explorer, or the sounds she'd make roughhousing with her brothers, ages 4 and 2.
But two weeks ago, the vivacious 3-year-old from Tyler, Texas caught a common cold and nearly suffocated.
She was airlifted to the Children's Medical Center in Dallas where Thomas and doctors watched over the toddler, trying to help her regain her health before she underwent a permanent tracheotomy.
On Tuesday, Emily had her last laugh. Doctors created a hole in Emily's throat and inserted a tube leading directly to her trachea.
Although she has had a few setbacks in recovery, Emily began to breathe on her own Thursday and was taken off a ventilator.
Thomas said it's been gut wrenching to see her daughter cry now silent tears.
"You don't hear it and that really upsets me," she said. "I feel like I can't leave the room. Now you have to be staring at her to know."
Recovery will continue to be an uphill battle, as will adjusting to life without that sweet laugh, but Thomas knows her daughter will continue to bring joy to the family.
"Anyone who works with her tells me her disability stops with her body," she said. "She isn't afraid of anything. She's the most positive person I know and that helps all of us."
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