Part I: Cutting-Edge Valley Surgeons Fixing "Broken" Hearts

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POSTED: Wednesday, February 15, 2012 - 10:51am

UPDATED: Thursday, February 16, 2012 - 8:43am

The Valley is one of the fastest growing regions in the U.S. and with that comes an increased need for advanced medical care.
Newscenter 23's Claudia Mickle takes a close look at Rio Grande Regional Hospital...the only medical center in the Valley to perform heart surgery on children.

Watching little Sergio Pena in karate class, you wouldn't know that he's undergone an open heart procedure.

"He has like stainless steel wires holding his ribs together," said Sergio's mother, Veronica Pena.

Little Sergio was 8 months old when diagnosed with an atrium septal defect…the diagnosis mimics a heart mumor.

"Because of this hole in his chamber, he's going to suffer from what we call pulmonary hypertension," said Pediactric Cardiologist, Dr. Daniel Martinez.

The hole can allow too much bloodflow to the lungs, which can damage blood vessels and lower the patient's quality of life.

"He would run out of breath a lot, he had different eating habits, they always thought he was a preemie…because he was very thin," said Pena.

Over time, this damage could lead to a shortened life expectancy.

"The hole, which was the murmur wasn't getting any smaller, it was actually enlarging," said Pena.

That's when Sergio's mother was introduced to a new Pediatric Heart Program at the Children's Medical Center at Rio Grande Regional Hospital in Mcallen. Doctor Daniel Martinez helped initiate the program in 2007...the first of it's kind in the Valley.

"It took us years, about two years to really train everybody.  Even though it's similar to an adult, working on a child, it's a different feeling," said Dr. Martinez.

Director of Cardiology Services, Manuel Cavasos was in charge of assembling a staff designed specifically to treat children.

"The challenge was working with pediatric patients, we had never done that, none of us had any experience in that.," said Cavazos.

Bthat didn't stop them, Cavazos and his staff received training at Children's Methodist in San Antonio for more than a year.

"All the staff was up for the challenge, they were enthusiastic, ready to get it done," said Cavazos.

Little did Pena know, her son was going to be the first pediatric open heart surgery performed in the Valley.

"As parents we were worried, because he was our baby and he was so little you know and to go through all that.," said Pena.

Yet despite her worries, Pena was assured by doctors that her son was in good hands and hoped this operation would cure her son of his ailing symptoms.

On June 9th 2009…with Dr. Martinez's help, Rio Grande Regional preformed the Valley's first successful pediatric open heart surgery on little Sergio Pena.  Since that time, Rio Grande has completed 40 successful procedures with minimal complications and remains the only hospital to perform open heart procedures on children.

Pena was thinking of traveling outside of the Valley for little Sergio's open heart surgery and says this program was offered just in time.

"We were very blessed to have decided to make the right choice to have the surgery here in the Valley," said Pena.

She says it would not have been possible to get the procedure done somewhere far from home.

"No, there would have been no way, because my daughter was in school, my husband was working, he had to work you know, and I was the only one who was staying with him at the hospital."

She says the Valley needs these types of specialists.

"So that their families don't have to travel away from their other half of their family."

Dr. Martinez grew up in Pharr and knows first hand the need for greater pediatric treatment in the Valley.

"The number of live births in cameron county is almost the same as san antonio."

Which is why he brought his talent back to help residents...like the Pena family.

"I'm a native and I want to provide that service to my own people in the valley," said Dr. Martinez.

Pena says she's thankful for the hospital staff.

"It was like we had another family there. They were always supportive, they were there for us."

Since the surgery, Sergio is a new person who is enjoying his childhood.

"Now he's doing wonderful.  We had our baby back and we know that he's going to be healthy going forward," said Pena. 

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