Healing hearts and a whole lot more

Healing hearts and a whole lot more

Kelly Estrada Ruiz studied each move with fascination as blood drawn from her right arm flowed into one vial, then another vial and another. When it was all over, an onlooker asked her what she wants to be when she grows up. “A doctor,” she replied in her native Spanish. Then the room erupted, “You go, girl!”

Kelly’s dream to become a doctor may be born of a desire to help others the way she has been helped. She was born with a heart arrhythmia, which means the electrical impulses that coordinate her heartbeat don’t work properly, causing her heart to beat too fast.

On May 10, Kelly traveled from her home in El Salvador along with Gerardo Moreira Umana, 13, who also has a heart rhythm disorder that causes his heart to beat faster than normal. Arrhythmias can cause shortness of breath and dizziness. In rare instances, they can result in death. Unlike healthy children their ages, Kelly and Gerardo must limit physical activity because symptoms are more likely to occur when they are running and playing.

The children arrived in Barrington, Ill., thanks to Healing the Children, a charitable organization that matches children in need with physicians and hospitals willing to help. Healing the Children brings kids to the United States for medical treatment not available to them in their home country.

On May 16, Gerardo underwent a cardiac ablation performed by Dr. Eric Kessler, and the following day, Kelly underwent the same procedure performed by Dr. Mehran Jabbarzadeh. Both physicians are cardiac electrophysiologists at the Advocate Heart Institute at Advocate Good Shepherd Hospital in Barrington, Ill.

The doctors inserted catheters, guiding them through blood vessels into the children’s hearts. They identified the abnormal pathways causing the arrhythmias and cauterized them. In a couple weeks, the children will return to El Salvador, where they will participate in physical activities that up until now were off limits for them.

“It’ll be a big change in their lifestyles,” Dr. Jabbarzadeh says. “It feels very rewarding to be able to help in this way.”

Jeff Degner, president of the Illinois/Indiana chapter of Healing the Children, says the organization has had a six-year relationship with Advocate Good Shepherd. During that time, more than 30 children have received life-changing surgeries at the hospital.

In addition to bringing critically ill children to the U.S. for medical treatment, Healing the Children organizes and manages medical trips abroad, and the group has a domestic program to help U.S. children in need. Healing the Children volunteers include host families who open their homes to the youngsters who come to the U.S. for treatment. With 16 chapters throughout the United States, Healing the Children has helped more than 250,000 children in 95 countries since it was established in 1979.

Degner says the relationship his Illinois/Indiana chapter has with Good Shepherd is vital.

“The treatment these young people receive here is life-changing for them,” he says. “Just days after their surgeries, they can start living the active lives of normal children. This is something they haven’t been able to do before. They can jump and run and dance and have the boundless energy they’ve always dreamed of.”

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About the Author

Kathleen Troher
Kathleen Troher

Kathleen Troher, health enews contributor, is manager of public affairs and marketing at Advocate Good Sheperd Hospital in Barrington. She has more than 20 years of journalism experience, with her primary focus in the newspaper and magazine industry. Kathleen graduated from Columbia College in Chicago, earning her degree in journalism with an emphasis on science writing and broadcasting. She loves to travel with her husband, Ross. They share their home with a sweet Samoyed named Maggie.