Receiving a liver transplant at age 3, Ruby Mwamba turned often to books and a favorite bracelet during long days in the hospital.
Her parents, Gabriel and Melissa Mwamba, read to her daily, and along with toys, the books were a constant comfort. Ruby also was reminded to look at that bracelet, which was made for her by the daughter of a family friend, with beads spelling “BRAVE.”
At the time, the Spokane residents thought it would have been nice to read a story to Ruby about a child needing an organ. After a regional Make-A-Wish office granted Ruby a wish in June 2022, instead of asking for a trip, the family went with that literary inspiration.
On Thursday at Wishing Tree Books, the family unveiled the book, “Ruby and the BRAVE Bracelet.”
“She was only 3½ when we started on the book,” Melissa Mwamba said. The family remained in Seattle after her surgery in April 2022 for about three months during their daughter’s recovery. Her health improved rapidly, and she continues to do well, her mother said.
It took about seven months to get a rough draft of the book about her experience.
“But it finally came together. She didn’t necessarily write it; it’s more about her transplant story.”
Through tears, Melissa Mwamba told a group Thursday that they’ll send a copy of the new book to the family of a boy who died, the donor of Ruby’s liver.
“We wouldn’t be here today if it weren’t for them,” she said. “We have been in contact with the family a couple of times, and they’ll get a copy. This book is in their honor.”
Ruby was born with a liver condition that occurs when a baby’s bile ducts don’t form normally and are unable to drain bile. Bile is a liquid that helps the body break down fats from the liver. When it doesn’t drain, it can scar the liver and cause jaundice, which is yellowing of the skin and eyes.
An earlier procedure in Spokane at 8 weeks old helped with drainage for Ruby until age 2. That year, her family learned her liver was failing, and she was placed on the transplant list for a donor organ. She was in nearly constant pain.
Gabriel Mwamba thanked the group of family, friends and some of Ruby’s health care providers.
“For Ruby, reading was a comfort,” he said. “We were just encouraged through this process.”
The couple met in 2014 after Gabriel, who is from Zambia, came to the U.S. They married in 2016, and he became a U.S. citizen by 2019. She works in administration for Faith Christian Academy, and he’s a minister doing remote work based in Africa, where his family still lives. He also does some nonprofit work.
Ruby’s earlier procedure still is working as far as drainage, Melissa Mwamba said. For some reason, Ruby’s liver began failing in 2021, and an instant change was noticeable.
“I came home from work one day that April 2021 and suddenly she was yellow,” Melissa said.
“It was her liver that got overly worked, and I don’t even really know how it works. Her small intestines now are hooked up to her new liver, and it’s still draining that way. It’s a super strange disease, but now, she’s doing so good. It’s a miracle.”
The bracelet helped Ruby remember to be brave throughout that entire time, her mother said.
“She’d started using that bracelet every time we’d go in for a lab check, and that kind of stuff,” she said. “She hated the lab checks. We always reminded her, ‘You’re so brave; look how much you’ve come through.’
“Suddenly, we had the inspiration, that we could write a story about it and how she used her brave bracelet to remind herself to be brave. So now, along with the book, we’ve also made a bunch of bracelets to go with it.”
The family and others, including Make-A-Wish volunteers, made more than 100 bracelets that will be given away with books.
The couple said they will donate a majority of the 50 books available through the Make-A-Wish grant to both Seattle Children’s and Providence Sacred Heart Children’s Hospital. The family also has purchased additional books.
They had first considered using a Make-A-Wish grant to travel to see Gabriel Mwamba’s family in Zambia, but vaccine recommendations and their daughter’s immune system were concerns.
“Our wish one day is to take her to Zambia where she could meet her family from her dad’s side,” her mom said. “We were really praying about, what would a little 3-year-old want? We asked her, do you want to write a book about this? She was all for it.”
A book to encourage other children and their families made sense, she said.
“So if there are parents who are in the same position, they can read a story about the same thing we’re going through and that there is hope,” Melissa Mwamba said. “We realize not every story is going to be like Ruby’s, where suddenly you’re perfect, but to have a story someone can read that somebody else has gone through this, that you’re not alone, and just to encourage them to pray and trust in the Lord. That’s a lot of what our book is about, trusting in God that he’s going to see you through.”
While a majority of the books will go to the hospitals, the couple will retain the rights. If there are future book sales, they might save that toward an eventual trip to Zambia, but it’s a few years out, she said.
Ruby seems to enjoy the book and is happy with her image within it, as depicted by illustrator Tina Maria Kouridakis, her mom said. It also mentions her parents, doctors, Ruby’s grandmother and Seattle Children’s.
“She thinks the little character that the lady drew of her is really cute,” Melissa Mwamba said. “She says, ‘Oh, it’s me.’
Ruby, now a preschool student, has a younger brother, Israel, who is 6 months old and healthy. Ruby’s condition isn’t genetic, Melissa Mwamba said.
The family still reads every night before bed.
“I don’t think she realizes how cool it is to have a book about you.”