Children have the faces of angels, whether they are laughing or in tears, sleeping or awake, clean or covered with food. Certainly there is nothing sadder in this world than seeing the face of an angel who is desperately ill.
Angel Notion, a medical project in the Yucatan peninsula of Mexico, was started to save the lives of children with life-threatening heart disease. The project, directed by Lavonna Redman, in late May brought six boys and girls to be seen by faculty physicians from The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio. The physicians are operating in the state-of-the-art surgical and heart catheterization facilities at CHRISTUS Santa Rosa Children’s Hospital.
Four of the children have had surgery and three have had heart catheterizations. “These children were going to die, yet all of the ones who have had surgery so far have left the hospital within four days,” said Jorge D. Salazar, M.D., assistant professor of surgery at the Health Science Center and attending surgeon at CHRISTUS Santa Rosa Children’s Hospital. “They are pink instead of blue, with twice the energy.”
Dr. Salazar and the other Health Science Center physicians are part of the CHRISTUS Santa Rosa Children’s Hospital Congenital Heart Institute of Texas. He said treatment of the Yucatan children, who have limited access to health care in Playa del Carmen, about 45 minutes south of Cancun, is a challenge because they have much more advanced disease than most children in South Texas.
The children, who are 1 to 9 years of age, are the first to be referred by Redman, who is the sister of Steven Bailey, M.D., interventional cardiologist at the Health Science Center.
“For every child, nearly 10 doctors are involved. It is a very collaborative effort,” Dr. Salazar said. “Our goal is to make this a regular activity, even once a month.” He said he hopes the surgeons can see 50 to 100 children a year from Playa del Carmen.
Some of the children had one pumping chamber instead of two. Some had holes in the septum, which separates the chambers of the heart. Some had over-circulation to the lungs, effectively flooding the lungs with blood. Others were “blue babies” because of inadequate blood flow to the lungs.
Redman said the children would not have survived if Dr. Salazar and Wilford Hall Medical Center pediatric cardiologist Dr. Kirk Milhoan had not made a trip to Playa del Carmen to assess which youngsters most urgently needed care. “One little boy went through the streets of Playa del Carmen on a bike with speakers announcing to parents that a doctor is coming if your child is having this type of problem,” she said. Forty-three children were brought to the clinic.
Dr. Salazar hopes to take equipment to Playa del Carmen to do procedures there. The people of the area are of Mayan descent and speak both Mayan and Spanish.
Redman got involved when she saw a child who had a bluish color and the parent said she was waiting for God to take her child. She now raises money for Angel Notion from the local population, government and industry. For more information, visit www.angelnotion.com.
The operating teams consist of pediatric heart surgeons, cardiologists, anesthesiologists, nurses, intensive care unit physicians and perfusionists. “The nice thing in treating babies with heart problems is that usually with one intervention we can save their lives and radically improve their lives,” Dr. Salazar said. “From blue babies they can become pink with hope for a normal life.”
The Health Science Center faculty physicians are donating their time while CHRISTUS Santa Rosa Children’s Hospital has assisted with surgeries and procedures.
The following individuals from San Antonio institutions have participated in or facilitated the provision of care for children from Playa del Carmen.
Kirk Milhoan, M.D., Ph.D., Wilford Hall Medical Center
Dana R. Janssen, M.D., UT Health Science Center
James H. Rogers Jr., M.D., UT Health Science Center
Deborah K. Rasch, M.D., UT Health Science Center
Pediatric critical care physician:
Minnette Son, M.D., UT Health Science Center
John H. Calhoon, M.D., UT Health Science Center
Jorge D. Salazar, M.D., UT Health Science Center
Nurses and perfusionists:
CHRISTUS Santa Rosa Children’s Hospital staff
Rick Wayne, M.D., CHRISTUS Santa Rosa Health Care
Marcy Doderer, CHRISTUS Santa Rosa Health Care
The Ronald McDonald House at CHRISTUS Santa Rosa Children’s Hospital