24 babies graduate from PCH heart program


by azfamily.com

Video report by Carey Peña

Posted on February 14, 2014 at 4:52 PM

Updated Friday, Feb 14 at 5:00 PM

PHOENIX -- Carolina Cortez was 20 weeks into her pregnancy when she learned her son would be born with a critical heart defect.

She and the baby's father had gone to their doctor for a routine ultrasound.

"It was really scary," she recalled. "We went in really happy and we found out, and we came out really sad."

When baby Lorenzo was born, his stomach was on the wrong side of his body, he was missing a kidney, and he had congenital heart disease.

But after several surgeries at Phoenix Children's Hospital, 6-month-old Lorenzo is healthy enough to go home.

Lorenzo is one of 24 babies who graduated Thursday from the Complex Congenital Heart Infant Evaluation and Follow-Up Program.

One of 50 heart monitoring programs in the United States, it accepts infants from all over the country who have the most severe type of congenital heart disease or single ventricle physiology.

Since the heart program launched six years ago, 205 babies have graduated, according to the hospital.

Thursday's graduation ceremony was for some of the hospital's youngest and at one point most critical heart patients.

"If they are safe at home as opposed to being critically sick, you know, that says a lot," said Dr. Stephen Pophal, Chief of Cardiology at Phoenix Children's Hospital. "The parents can sleep well at night that they've graduated from the critical time period of this heart disease."

Each baby received a diploma signed by Children's Heart Center Director Dr. John Nigro and a red baseball cap adorned with a white tassel.

An official class photo was taken of the two dozen graduates and their families.

"The excitement today is so much different compared to the fear," Lorenzo's father said. "You think your baby is not going to survive, I mean, it's hard to take."