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.