Baby Gabriel’s Heart

I spoke with Gloria yesterday. Baby Gabriel has reached the point where he needs surgical intervention for his defective heart, and soon. He simply isn’t getting enough oxygenated blood flow to support a growing body.

With the Panamanian cardiologist’s approval, they will wait until the U.S. surgical team arrives. As they’ve been in and out of the medical office in Panama City they’ve come to know some of the other little ones with serious heart problems. Two of those children have died – not necessarily of Tetralogy of Fallot, but of some unresolved heart issue. When Gloria and Fani ask about Gabriel’s prospects, the doctor replies – quite appropriately, I suspect – that the baby’s life is in God’s hands.

When the U.S. team arrives early in September little Gabriel will have a heart catheterization to assess the size of his veins – which have to be big enough for the doctors to work with to do the full corrective procedure. If the veins have grown sufficiently, the surgeons will repair the Tet defects and the baby will have only one surgery – albeit a long and complex one. If not, the surgeons will install a shunt between Gabriel’s heart and lungs to buy more time and increase the flow of oxygenated blood. A second, corrective surgery will follow.

Gloria is a woman of deep faith. She is also fatalistic, as poor Panamanians must be. They rarely have access to the best, or even health care that is timely and adequate. Village people die all the time – the young, the old, the in between. They wash and dress their dead, place them in wooden coffins, and most of the neighbors turn out for the long, sad walk to the cemetery outside of town. Village men bear the casket on their shoulders. They walk in the sun and heat, or in the drenching rain. Then they weep. Then they go on.

Gloria prays that God will not ask them to relinquish their small, smiling boy. Their struggle feels almost biblical. Everything that could come together for Gabriel’s care has – almost miraculously –  yet his young life still teeters on the edge.

Regardless of the outcome, Gloria will not lose faith. If she can’t pray to God for Gabriel’s life, she will pray for her family’s comfort in their sorrow. En la lucha, she tells me. They are always in the struggle.

Fani and Gloria

8 thoughts on “Baby Gabriel’s Heart

  1. Please tell Gloria that we are sending all positive thoughts their way. (maybe “praying” will make more sense to her) I am reminded of a book “When Bad Things Happen to Good People” by Rabbi Kushner.

  2. I fervently hope for the best for Gabrielito. September, just the other day, seemed right around the corner. Now it seems so far away.

  3. For Linda: I will tell her that you are sending positive thoughts their way. You’re correct in thinking that “praying” probably makes more sense in terms of language. She broke down several times during our phone call – this is hugely stressful for all of them. It’s a great comfort to her to know that those of you who know her from your visits to Panama still think of her and care what happens to her family.

  4. For Wendy: Funny, how time does that. “Early September”, when the surgical team comes back to Panama, could be Sept. 1 – two weeks away. Or, it could be later. Every day feels like a stretch.

  5. For Nedra: Thank you. I’ll write to you and Randi separately in an email, but Gloria wants you to know that she is praying a novena to ask God to bless you and your families for your kindness to her family.

  6. This is such sad news I really don’t know what to think or say. I’m truly horrified that people all over the world go through this, and that we are the exception. I’ve never met this family, but I have come to cherish them through you. I guess I better pony up to the “believe in the power of prayer” bar and drink it down straight. I don’t think that God will “fix” this situation, but I guess I do believe that the collected power of love/prayer will help them through wherever this leads. Please let Gloria that the parish of St. Joan of Arc in Minneapolis is praying for the whole family. I wish I could be there to sweep Gloria’s floors, cook her meals, and give her physical “service”, as well as prayer.

    This post has too many “I”s when Gloria and her family are the point. Sorry about that.

  7. For Mary: As you can imagine, Fani is not sleeping at all during the night. She’s listening for the baby to breathe. They are, collectively, exhausted. I hope and pray that the medical team arrives sooner rather than later. The prayers of your parish will mean a great deal as I remind Gloria that the baby and the entire family are on your prayer list. Thank you.

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