Copyright © 2015 Albuquerque Journal
Sulma Rosales is breathing a lot easier these days. That’s because her 13-month-old son, Anthony Josue Velasquez Rosales, is also breathing easier – literally.
When the mother and child arrived in Albuquerque on Oct. 24 from Metapan, a small town in El Salvador, baby Anthony was blue and struggling with a congenital heart condition as well as a problem with the artery that carries blood to his lungs.
A week later, a medical team at Presbyterian Hospital performed a three-hour operation in which two holes in Anthony’s heart were repaired, and an arterial valve was widened to provide the child with unobstructed blood flow to his lungs. All doctor and hospital services were donated.
Today, baby Anthony is no longer blue and is gaining strength. Anthony was discharged from the hospital Friday, and he and his mother are staying in the Albuquerque home of Louise Kahn, a pediatric nurse practitioner, until their return on Dec. 5 to El Salvador, where Rosales’ husband and their 6-year-old son await a reunion.
Without the surgery, the baby’s condition, called tetralogy of Fallot, probably would have killed him in about a year, said Dr. Carl Lagerstrom, a cardiothoracic surgeon who performed the procedure. “When he came in, his oxygen level was 60 percent; normal is in the 90s. Now, he pretty much has a normal life expectancy.”
The happy ending was made possible through the efforts of Healing the Children, a national nonprofit organization that arranges free medical services to poor children who might not otherwise have access to them.
The organization accomplishes this by sending doctors and other medical professionals to foreign countries to perform surgeries on children there, or when the surgeries are too complex and can’t be done in those countries, the children are brought to specialists in the United States, said Laura Rifka Stern, an Albuquerque family practice doctor and board president of Healing the Children Southwest Chapter.
The organization also helps secure medical assistance for children in the U.S. who may not have insurance or access to social services for medically necessary treatments, medical equipment or medications, she said.
Speaking through an interpreter, Rosales, 33, said she traveled 2½ hours from her village to the hospital in the Salvadoran capital, San Salvador, to get help for her child. Doctors there diagnosed Anthony’s condition.
“They said he was gravely ill and didn’t give him much hope without the surgery. They could do the surgery in San Salvador, but the risk was too great because they didn’t have the best technology.”
Getting him to the United States was made possible after a charity in El Salvador contacted Healing the Children Southwest Chapter. An echocardiogram of Anthony was sent by doctors in San Salvador to doctors in Albuquerque, who confirmed the child needed immediate attention. The local chapter of Healing the Children made all the arrangements to bring Anthony and his mother to Albuquerque.
“Everybody volunteered their services, from Presbyterian Hospital, to the cardiologists, to the cardiothoracic surgeon, the anesthesiologists, radiation services, TriCore labs, I mean everybody,” Stern said.
Rosales said she slept on a cot in Anthony’s room while he was at Presbyterian. “I was very worried, of course,” she said. “They told me he shouldn’t cry because if he cried too hard he wouldn’t get enough oxygen and then he could pass out. So I was always nursing him and trying to keep him calm. Since the operation, he’s so much stronger. Now he can cry and I can be calm.”
Lagerstrom, who has been at Presbyterian for 24 years and has been doing heart surgeries for 27 years, said that the baby’s condition “is one of the most common complex congenital heart defects,” and that he and his team perform up to a dozen surgeries each year on children who have it.
“That’s one of the reasons we wanted to help him. We knew it was something we could fix, that the (mortality) risk in our institution is very low, and this one operation would change his life. It’s very rewarding for us.”
While Anthony may need to have his artery valve replaced when he is older, possibly in his 20s, the procedure to fix the holes in his heart is “a definitive repair,” Lagerstrom said.
“His heart is absolutely fine now. We’ve done echocardiograms after the surgery and it looks very good. His biggest problem is he doesn’t want to eat, but he didn’t want to eat before the surgery. I think he’s anxious about being here and when he gets back home, he’ll do a lot better.”
And so will his mother.
“I give thanks to Healing the Children and the hospital and all the doctors and nurses, but I am ready to go back home,” said Rosales. “I want to hug my husband and son.”
Healing the Children
Financial contributions to Healing the Children Southwest Chapter are used to help provide critically needed medical services to children in foreign countries and in the United States.Charitable gifts to the local chapter can be made through the Albuquerque Community Foundation website, albuquerquefoundation.org/grant-stories-healing-the-children-southwest-chapter.aspx, or the organization’s national website, healingthechildren.org/donate.