Monserrat Sarmiento was only one week old when she had her first operation. She received the tiniest of pacemakers. Suffering from congenital heart disease, Monserrat has tried not to make her condition slow her down. However, her condition did slow her down. It was very serious and after a few years her small pacemaker ceased to be a solution to keep her alive. She would have to go on a heart transplant list. At the age of six, she was considered a national priority in her home country of Chile.
Daniella Maluenda, Monserrat’s mother details the heartbreak of having a sick child.
“When they chose to put my daughter on the list of transplants, she was connected to a mechanical ventilator and in the ICU. At that time, the doctors recommended we enjoy our time with her because there was no hope of recovery.”
Daniella said her daughter, at a very young age, would ask about the future.
“She always would say to me ‘Mom: will I ever get a better heart? Will I have to learn to live with the machine until you find a solution?'”
Monserrat who, despite so many health problems, smiles easily and as seen in these pictures is loved by her family and the team at Red de Salud UC CHRISTUS Health Network’s transplant and cardiac pediatric program. The program is unique in Chile and is recognized nationally by the Ministry of Health .
Due to young Monserrat’s condition and the serious need to replace the lower functions of her heart, the medical team decided to carry out an innovative procedure: installing an artificial heart, a device that replaces the function of the damaged organ. She would be the only patient in Latin America and one of the youngest in the world to receive this device
“It was essential and allowed her to survive,” explained Dr. Pedro Becker, Chief of Cardiac Surgery of the Hospital Clínico UC CHRISTUS. He would lead both complex surgeries and believes without this device she probably would not have lived through the long wait to receive a match and have a more traditional heart-transplant surgery.
Became a perfect heart
Monserrat suffered from dilated cardiomyopathy, a condition in which the heart becomes enlarged and cannot pump blood effectively. She spent three years as a priority on the national organ donation list in Chile and then more than two years waiting for the artificial heart transplant.
Finally the evening of June 8, 2018, only a few hours after receiving the notice, she received a heart transplant. The family of a 15-year-old girl who died after a traffic accident, made the decision that their loved one would be an organ donor.
The operation lasted for more than 12 nerve-wracking hours for Monserrat’s family. But, in the end the result was sheer joy.
“Without a doubt, it was a perfect heart for her. It was a heart in good condition. The hospital where the donor died took proper care of the donor heart,” said Dr. Becker.
Health improvements in Monserrat could be seen immediately. Only a week after the surgery she was playing and chatting it up with hospital staff. Little more than one month from her transplant, on July 12, she left the Hospital Clinico UC CHRISTUS. It was where she had practically lived for the last four years.
“I just want to play with my toys and finally say, ‘I am free,'” said Monserrat as she said goodbye to the friends she had made at the hospital. And, even though she wore a surgical mask, to protect herself from infections, you could still tell in her eyes she was smiling and gleaming with excitement as she departed the hospital and began her new journey as a 9-year-old kid with a new heart.
“Now everything will be a step forward,” said Daniella.
Like any transplant patient, correct immunosuppressive therapy will be fundamental to keeping her healthy. Following the transplant, Monserrat left behind the risk of new strokes, more than 15 daily medications and constant fatigue.
“She is happy and eager to do things she couldn’t do before. I infinitely thank God for putting us in the hands of UC CHRISTUS network of health professionals. Many thanks to the nurses, the doctors, its governing body, technicians all have always been with us, supporting us in these three years of struggle”, adds Daniella.
Currently in Chile, more than 2,000 people are in waiting list for a transplant, all of them hoping that just like Monserrat, a new organ can give them the opportunity for a better life.