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'Healing the Children' at Advocate Good Shepherd

BARRINGTON – Cecilia Miranda Urbina’s life is about to change.

The 13-year-old girl from El Salvador underwent a heart procedure last week at Advocate Good Shepherd Hospital to correct an arrhythmia that prevented her from playing sports, exercising and even eating certain foods. At the end of the month, when she returns to her family in San Salvador, she’ll be able run, swim and do everything else her friends do.

The chain of events that brought her here for treatment was extraordinary, Miranda Urbina said.

“It’s a miracle that people made this happen,” she said in Spanish in an interview conducted with help from a translator. “I don’t know how to thank all the people who helped.”

Miranda Urbina’s miracle involved nonprofit groups in two countries, many volunteers and 70,000 donated frequent-flyer miles.

Healing the Children, a nonprofit that provides medical care to children worldwide, arranged the trip for Miranda Urbina and two other teens with arrhythmia from El Salvador. The nonprofit’s Illinois/Indiana chapter, based in Barrington, brings six children to the U.S. each year for medical care, Director Jeff Degner said. It also funds medical missions to send U.S. doctor abroad to treat patients.

The chapter arranges visas, flights, travel escorts, hospital stays and finds doctors to volunteer services. It also locates host families for the children, who often stay for several weeks after the procedure for follow-up care.

Miranda Urbina flew to O’Hare International Airport along with Jasmine Rivas Hernandez, a 15-year-old from La Paz, and Jose Albañes Colocho, a 13-year-old from Santa Ana.

All three have Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome, an extra electrical connection in the heart that can cause very rapid heart beat. The extra tissue is present at birth in about 0.1 to 0.3 percent of the population. Those with the syndrome tire easily from exercise. Other symptoms include weakness, dizziness, light-headedness and anxiety. More serious cases can lead to difficulty breathing, chest pains and death, said Dr. Raymond Kawasaki, a cardiac electrophysiologist at Advocate Good Shepherd Hospital in Barrington.

The condition curtailed what the teens were able to do.

“They haven’t played much, they can’t eat chocolate or drink Coca-Cola, and they have to take medication to suppress the rhythm issues,” Kawasaki said. “The heart procedure alleviates the need for medication and lets them live normal lives.”

El Salvador lacks the facilities necessary to perform the procedure, said Kawasaki, who has been working with Healing the Children since 2007.

“We insert thin electrode catheters into blood vessels which are then guided to the heart,” he said.  “We then identify the abnormal heart tissue which is causing the arrhythmia and destroy it by applying heat or freezing energy through one of these catheters. Once this is done, the patient can be cured of their arrhythmia.” 

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