Leonardo, before his first surgery, held by his aunt, with whom the family lives.  

Leonardo, before his first surgery, held by his aunt, with whom the family lives.  

In August 2015, Solidarity Bridge's social workers in Bolivia caught up with several patients treated over the past years through our Children's Heart Surgery Program. Here, we take you along to see for yourself what the program has meant for just one family!

Leonardo's Story

Soon after bringing Leonardo home from the hospital, Mario and Sandra of Santa Cruz knew something was different with their third son. Most worrisome was that he appeared to struggle to breath while eating, to the point that his hands and feet turned blue. It wasn’t until he was two months old that the family was told Leonardo had Down Syndrome, accompanied by a complex set of birth defects known as Tetrology of Fallot. Knowing nothing about Down Syndrome, this news was difficult to accept, but the heart issue was most pressing. Doctors told the family that Leonardo would need not one but at least two heart surgeries.

Before Leonardo’s birth, the family rented a small apartment. With the news of Leonardo’s condition, they moved in with relatives and Mario and Sandra juggled jobs in restaurants and city markets to save money for his medical care. But they knew they couldn’t save enough for the surgeries, certainly not in time to save him. Nights were especially long as the family kept watch over tiny Leonardo, whose breathing seemed to worsen in the predawn hours.

"Now, nobody can stop him!" - Leonardo's Parents

"Now, nobody can stop him!" - Leonardo's Parents

The family began to look for help, and was referred to the Santa Cruz office of Puente de Solidaridad, Solidarity Bridge’s representation in Bolivia. Leonardo underwent his first surgery in February 2012 at the Incor Clinic in Santa Cruz, when he was 7 months old. His condition immediately improved; his skin went from blue to pink, and he could finally breathe freely. His second surgery took place 7 months later, and after that his growth rate picked up along with his overall development. He was referred for a full year of physical therapy, where they helped teach him to walk. As his parents note: “Now, nobody can stop him!”

Leonardo currently attends an “early start” center, and will soon be enrolled in a nearby preschool. Sandra, Mario, and their extended families have educated themselves on Down Syndrome and are investing great efforts to give him the extra support he needs. Leonardo is especially lucky to have two doting older brothers who entertain and care for him.

When our social workers recently caught up with the family, Sandra first recalled the stressful early days: “Now, as a mother, I remember it was very difficult for us.” But she prefers to focus on all the good that has come since.

Sandra also shared a plea on behalf of the many other moms and dads who might find themselves in a similar plight: “I’m asking you to continue to help children who have nowhere else to go. I ask you with all my heart to never tire of helping, because our children are angels from God.“

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