Milagros, age four, is the middle of three daughters of Giovanna Fernández. Milagros appeared to be a healthy baby until around one year of age, when her growth stalled and her skin and fingernails began to take on a bluish tone. One night she spiked a high fever and began to convulse, so her mother rushed her to the emergency room at the public children’s hospital in Santa Cruz, Bolivia. Echocardiogram and other tests revealed that Milagros suffered from one of the most complicated congenital heart defects, Tetralogy of Fallot, which actually involves three or four anatomical abnormalities of the heart. Tetralogy of Fallot results in decreased oxygenation of the blood, producing what is commonly known as blue baby syndrome.
Doctors told her parents that Milagros would die from her condition. Giovanna’s response was to organize raffles, neighborhood parties, and any other fundraiser she could come up with to raise the money to take Milagros to the best doctors she could find. Upon hearing her prognosis, the baby’s father’s response was to abandon the family, leaving Giovanna to confront the situation on her own. Giovanna sustains the home by selling sodas on the sidewalks in her neighborhood. Her elderly parents help Giovanna make ends meet, but their own declining health limits how much they can contribute.
In April of this year, Milagros’ condition sharply deteriorated. It became very difficult for her to breath, and Giovanna had to do everything possible to prevent her from crying, which was too much effort for her little body to handle. By this time, Giovanna had scraped together enough money to pay for additional evaluations, through which she was told her daughter’s life could be extended by a surgery known as a Blalock-Toussig shunt, which serves to direct blood flow to the lungs and relieve cyanosis. Despite her greatest efforts, the cost was beyond what Giovanna could raise. Fortunately, she was referred to the Santa Cruz office of Puente de Solidaridad, the local partners of Solidarity Bridge.
Milagros received her surgery on May 12th, 2013, at the private Instituto del Corazón (InCor), performed by one of Solidarity Bridge’s most prestigious partners in Santa Cruz, Dr. Arturo Barrientos. This surgery was made possible through the financial support of Dharma Trading Co. Dr. Barrientos will continue to monitor Milagros’ condition, including to evaluate whether she may be eligible for additional surgeries to further improve her long term outcome. For now, the shunt has greatly improved her quality of life, for which Giovanna, her other two daughters, Renee and Samira, and Milagros’ grandparents, Victoria and Jesus, are all extremely grateful.