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Spokane pediatric specialists heal a tiny broken heart

Baby Margarita Hernandez was born in the small agricultural community of La Papalota, El Salvador. Shortly after her birth a local doctor diagnosed her with a congenital heart defect that was beyond his expertise to repair. Her only hope would be the generosity of specialists in a far away country.

Fortunately, Baby Margarita has an aunt, also named Margarita Hernandez, who joined the Sisters of Providence in 2004 and lives in Spokane. Through the sisters and Healing the Children, arrangements were made to bring Baby Margarita to Sacred Heart Children's Hospital. Sister JoAnn Showalter, visiting the Sisters of Providence mission in La Papalota, spent time with the baby's worried parents and offered to escort Baby Margarita on her long journey. Knowing it was their child's only hope, the parents agreed that she must go.

When she arrived in Spokane, Baby Margarita was 22 months old and weighed just 18 pounds. Cardiac problems caused her not only to be small, but to have very little energy. The trip from El Salvador was difficult on her failing heart and lungs. Healing the Children foster parents James and Shirl Lewis described her as tiny, very shy and extremely wary of anyone who looked like a medical person.

Baby Margarita was diagnosed with a ventricular septal defect - a hole between the bottom chambers of her heart - as well as an anomaly of the right coronary artery. Both conditions are serious and life-threatening if not repaired. (Typically, a child in the United States would have these congenital heart defects corrected in early infancy.)

The team of physicians who volunteered to provide medical care for Baby Margarita included Dr. Neil Worrall, cardiothoracic surgeon; Drs. Carl and Hrair Garabedian, Northwest Center for Congenital Heart Disease; Dr. Mitch Minana, Anesthesiologist; and support staff. All of the professional services, as well as the hospital expenses, were provided free of charge.

Baby Margarita was scheduled for surgery on October 19 and the team successfully repaired the defects in a 4-hour surgery. After a few days in the pediatric intensive care unit, she was released to her foster family and has flourished in their care. The 2-year-old, who celebrated her second birthday November 13, is gaining weight, has energy to play and has learned to love her caregivers.

When asked why he volunteered to join Baby Margarita's medical team, Dr. Worrall replied: "It is incredibly gratifying to everyone on the team to be able to help a child who would otherwise have no chance. It is important for us to give back to our community and those less fortunate around the world."

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