.- Luidgy Virgile is a beautiful 2-year-old boy from Haiti. His dark curly hair, ready smile and rambunctious, energetic spirit make people warm to him immediately. However, just six months ago, Luidgyâs parents were terrified of losing him because he had a congenital heart defect. But, thanks to the grace of God, a local nonprofit organization, and physicians in Central Texas, Luidgyâs heart has been successfully treated, and he can look forward to a long and healthy life.
In March 2008, Luidgy was diagnosed with an atrial septal defect, a hole between the upper chambers of his heart. The oxygenated blood and non-oxygenated blood were blending inside his heart. He also had an atrial flutter ââ an irregular heartbeat. His symptoms included fatigue and trouble breathing.
Luidgy needed surgical procedures to fix these problems, but this type of surgery is not done in Haiti. In addition, Luidgyâs parents could not afford to travel to another country and pay the high medical fees for their son. Elika, Luidgyâs mother, is a law student, and his father is a policeman.
âWhen the doctors in Haiti said Luidgy had to be operated on, we didnât have the money to have an operation,â Elika said. âWe thought we would lose him.â
And then a marvelous series of occurrences took place.
Elikaâs sister, Nathalie Jacques, works at the Sacre Coeur Hospital in Milot, Haiti, where she met Sister Martha Barlai-Kovach.
Twenty years ago, Sister Barlai-Kovach was in the novitiate for the Daughters of Charity with Sister Teresa George, the vice president and chief operating officer of Dell Childrenâs Medical Center in Austin.
Sister Barlai-Kovach e-mailed Sister George asking if there was any way she could help Luidgy.
Sister George knew about Heartgift, a nonprofit organization in Austin and San Antonio, which provides life-saving heart surgery to disadvantaged children in developing countries where this type of surgery is not available, at no cost to the children and their families. Sister George contacted Heartgift.
In January, Elika and Luidgy flew to Austin. Heartgift arranged for transportation, medical treatment and a French-speaking host family.
Initially, everyone involved expected Luidgy would need open-heart surgery, which requires about a weekâs stay in the hospital and then several weeks of recovery.
But it was discovered that Luidgyâs medical condition could be treated in the cardiac catheterization lab at Dell Childrenâs Medical Center, with surgical instruments threaded to his heart via catheterization.
Dr. Arnold Fenrich, pediatric electrophysiologist with Childrenâs Cardiology Associates in Austin, was able to find the cause of Luidgyâs atrial flutter and treat it.
âI identified an area of tissue on the top chamber that would allow me to deliver energy to that tissue to cause a scar and block the path (in order to make his heartbeat normal.) I treated it with radio-frequency energy,â Dr. Fenrich said.
Lisa Rodman, the executive director of Heartgift, said Dr. Fenrichâs presence in Austin made it possible for Heartgift to bring Luidgy here. Dr. Fenrich is the only pediatric electrophysiologist in Austin and he just recently began practicing in Austin.
âUntil Dr. Fenrich came here, the problem wasnât treatable here. If we had heard about Luidgyâs problem even six months earlier, we probably couldnât have treated it,â Rodman said.
The second part of Luidgyâs treatment was closing the hole ââ the atrial septal defect ââ between the upper chambers of his heart. Dr. Karen Wright, a pediatric cardiologist with Childrenâs Cardiology Associates, successfully closed the hole.
Amazingly, because both of these procedures were done via catheterization, Luidgy never had to undergo open-heart surgery, which would have been more extensive and would have required a longer, more complicated recovery.
Luidgyâs mother said her heart is full of gratitude for everyone who helped her son get well.
âMy travel here has gone very well. I was not expecting to be able to stay with a family. I was not expecting to feel so at ease with the family. I am happy Florence is here with me. I really want to thank the hospital and the doctors because they took such good care of my baby. I also want to thank the Heartgift Foundation for everything they have done. I feel it is such a blessing,â she said.
Florence Colantonio and her family hosted Elika and Luidgy during the weeks that they were in Austin.
Many people involved with Luidgyâs treatment have remarked on how fortunate it was that so many pieces fell into place. Sister George does not doubt it was all thanks to God.
âMartha and I are distant friends, that she even thought to write me is remarkable. She didnât know about Heartgift, she was just asking if we would be able to help. Thatâs how God works,â Sister George said. âIf any one of those pieces were not in place Luidgyâs treatment would not have happened. Thatâs the providence of people coming together.â
For more information about Heartgift, visit www.heartgift.org.
Printed with permission from the Catholic Spirit, newspaper from the Diocese of Austin, Texas.