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


POSTED: Thursday, February 16, 2012 - 10:57am

UPDATED: Thursday, February 23, 2012 - 9:09am

The Valley is one of the fastest growing regions in the U.S. and with that comes an increased need for advanced medical care.

"I have congenital heart disease," said heart patient, Amelia Castro.

"This young woman's situation was very different from the normal situation that we see," said Dr. Frank Mazzola, Cardiac Electrophysiologist.

Amelia Castro was born with two very rare conditions...Transposition of the Great Arteries and Dextrocardia.  In simpler terms, Castro's heart is esentially reversed.

"Usually it's in the center of the chest, but it points to the left, but hers was pointing to the right," said Dr. Mazzola.

Amelia first found out about her condition when she was twelve years old.  Patients who suffer from her condition can typically see up to 100 episodes of tachycardia a day.

"My right jaw becomes numb, my right arm becomes numb, my jaw aches…I have shortness of breath," said Castro.

The condition left her immobalized and very lonely.

"It's the most awful feeling; you're not able to even be around people. You basically have no life."

Even worse, Amelia's heart disease took a toll on her role as a mother.

"The most difficult part of being of being sick, of having this heart condition is not being able to be there for your child."

Her daughter is now 18-years-old and Amelia feels she missed out on a lot of mother-daughter experiences that she can never get back.

"I was the only person she had in her life and i was failing at that."

Looking back, Amelia began treatment for her condition early on.

She visited many doctors in cities outside of the valley including Corpus, Houston and Galveston.

"They were able to find a medication that would help me, but only for a limited time."

Yet despite her frequent visits to doctors, they were never able to find a real cure.

"The medication that they would give me wasn't working anymore, so I had to switch medications
every year."

The years of prescriptions have caused a wide range of side effects.

"My skin pigments were damaged, there's some of course irreversible lung damage."

Amelia says her episodes eventually became so prominent she was left with no other options.

"When things started getting worse and worse, we decided that it was time we needed to do something," said Dr. Mazzola.

That's when Amelia met Dr. Mazzola.

"March 9th, 2011…that's when my life changed," said Castro. 

"In her case, everything…all bets were off, 'cause…nothing was in the right place," said Dr. Mazzola.

He knew it would be a difficult task, especially with so many failed attempts from others, but didn't shy away.

Dr. Mazzola performed a successful catheter ablation on removing the abnormal fibers in her heart, which had been the root of her attacks.

"There's a perception that you have to go to a major city to have something like this done, but that's really not true, all you need is the facilities and the right people," said Dr. Mazzola.

Amelia says she wished she would have met Dr. Mazzola sooner instead of seeking medical treatment somewhere else.

"Not having to travel to the bigger cities, it's a big relief on my wallet," said Castro.

Amelia, a Los Fresnos native, says having her surgery at Valley Regional gave her peace of mind because her family and friends were close by.

"Just knowing that everyone is out there in the waiting area, praying…makes a world of difference."

Since the surgery, Amelia has picked up activites like working out.

"I feel great.  I wasn't able to exercise much before, and you know we always worry about our weight. so it's wonderful that I can actually do something about it."

"When you can actually cure a situation that's been plaguing someone like this for years, it's a really good feeling…I think that's what makes it all worth it," said Dr. Mazzola.

Now at the age of 45, Amelia says being sick is no longer an issue.

"Not a lot of people are asking me how i'm doing these days, they just see that I'm different and they're happy for me," said Castro.

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