In our previous two blog posts we talked about how the Solidarity Bridge Open Heart program spearheaded and supported the opening of new pediatric heart facilities including a specially-equipped O.R. and Bolivia’s first pediatric Cardiac Care Unit (CCU) in a public hospital.
By the spring of 2015, the new unit was deemed ready for its first patients. Even then, the prudent decision was made to begin with “simple” cases. “Simple” meant surgeries performed on a beating heart, without needing to hook it up to a heart-lung bypass machine to take over heart functions during the operation. In other words, the first surgeries would not technically be “open-heart” surgeries. Many of the children we treat have congenital heart defects fixable through simpler “beating heart” procedures. Those would be the first performed by the new team, while they settled into and continued to upgrade and improve the new facilities.
We are overjoyed to finally share the brief stories of some of those first patients!
Britany was born in September 2014 with patent ductus arteriosus. PDA is when a fetal blood vessel fails to close after birth, resulting in irregular blood flow between two important arteries. It is one of the most common congenital heart defects, and sometimes resolves on its own or can be medically treated. But Britany’s case was severe. If not operated, she was at risk of congestive heart failure.
Britany’s mother Ledy and her family were overwhelmed and ill-prepared to care for a special-needs baby. Her aunt Dalila, herself a struggling domestic worker, stepped in to find help. As she told the social worker at Puente de Solidaridad, Solidarity Bridge’s Santa Cruz office: “…we are not going to abandon Ledy at any moment, not her or my niece.” Our social worker assured Dalila that we would not abandon them either.
On Britany’s 6-month birthday, Dr. Roberto Pacheco made an incision between her ribs in a procedure called a thoracotomy to access and clip shut her defective heart vessel. After five nights under careful watch in the new CCU, Britany was strong enough to go home.
Two more babies presenting the same PDA diagnosis were operated the following month.
Seven-month old Sharlene is the newest addition to the family of Denitza and Alexander. Alexander's $70/week income as a bricklayer is stretched to sustain a household of eight, that includes three other daughters, a niece, and his widowed mother-in-law. Sharlene spent most of her first months in the Hospital de Niños - she turned blue and gasped for air especially when trying to nurse, and she failed to gain much weight. Alexander, overwhelmed by the situation, was reluctant to accept that his littlest girl needed surgery. With the support of the hospital staff and Solidarity Bridge social workers, he eventually agreed it was in her best interest. Sharlene is now back home with her family.
Anita was just 13 days old when Dr. Pacheco determined she needed emergency surgery or she would not survive. Fortunately, he was able to repair her heart with the same thoracotomy approach used to treat Britany and Sharlene.
Anita’s father had died of liver cancer just weeks after she was conceived, leaving her young mother, Ana Paola, deeply grieving and destitute. Ana Paola’s parents, Roly and Modesta, themselves struggling to support their heartbroken daughter and her six younger siblings, collected and contributed $50 dollars toward the cost of little Anita’s surgery. It was all they had, but it was important for them to present it to our social workers.
In the words of Modesta:
“We are now more tranquila with the support you are giving us. May God bless all that you do for our little angel, given to us by God.”
The new pediatric heart facilities continue to develop, one sometimes-wobbly step at a time. A heart-lung bypass machine and related equipment and supplies procured by Solidarity Bridge will be delivered later this year, in hopes that the team soon will be prepared to put them to use for more complex cases.
We can not repeat enough how grateful we are to all of our supporters and donors, big and small, named and unnamed, who are making this all possible. THANK YOU!
With your support, we will continue to provide lifesaving medical procedures and other health care for more patients. Thanks to the reduced costs at this new public facility, your donation will stretch even further. Please donate today!