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Stranded in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria, infants flown to Miami for heart surgery

Daniel Chang, Miami Herald on

Published in Weather News

MIAMI -- Three of the smallest and most frail Puerto Ricans made it through the worst of Hurricane Maria hunkered down in a hospital where the windows shattered, the water rushed in, and the power went out.

It was the aftermath that nearly killed them -- and the serendipity of professional networking that rescued the three newborns from the storm-wracked island, and brought them to Miami's Nicklaus Children's Hospital for emergency heart surgeries within 48 hours of the hurricane's landfall in Puerto Rico.

Without the surgeries, Amelia Pieve Silvagnoli, Gabriellyz Troche Ruiz and Liam Javi Nieves would have died from the heart defects with which they were born, doctors said.

The infants are among dozens of Puerto Ricans who have come to South Florida for medical care in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, which devastated the island's health care system.

About 90 patients evacuated from Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands are receiving kidney dialysis at Florida International University in Southwest Miami-Dade under a hurricane recovery response program coordinated by the state's Department of Health.

Among the most urgent patients evacuated from Puerto Rico were the three infants with heart defects, all of whom were born in August and September.

"They were the weakest and most vulnerable people in this hurricane," Dr. Redmond Burke, chief of cardiovascular surgery for Nicklaus Children's, said Monday. "We were determined to help them."

Before Hurricane Maria struck Puerto Rico on Sept. 20, the newborns were sheltered at the Cardiovascular Center of Puerto Rico and the Caribbean in San Juan, which specializes in complex heart surgeries for kids.

But the storm knocked out power to every hospital on the island, and the Cardiovascular Center took some of the worst damage. Its windows shattered, its first floor flooded, and its blood bank inoperable, the Cardiovascular Center had to evacuate its most vulnerable patients, including Amelia, Gabriellyz and Liam.

Unable to perform surgery on the infants, doctors in Puerto Rico would be able to keep the infants alive for a few days at most, using ventilators and an intravenous medication that keeps blood flowing from the heart to the lungs.

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