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Baptist hospital implants new heart, new hope

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Dying Paraguay mission hospital is transformed, given new life

Paraguay Baptist clinics treat, minister to poor

ASUNCIÓN, Paraguay (BP) — At only 5 years old, Tatiana Benítez was diagnosed with dilated cardiomyopathy, a severe heart condition. Doctors told her parents that without a transplant, the Paraguayan girl would die within a year.

“You can imagine how I felt when I heard that,” says Tatiana’s mother, Lilian Isaurralde. “We were in pain, both suffering as parents.”

Isaurralde sought help for her daughter, but the Ministry of Public Health of Paraguay told her national insurance doesn’t cover heart transplants for children. With no other option, she and her husband, Sebastián Benítez Jimenez, decided he would find work in Spain so the transplant might be provided by Spain’s national insurance.

“We felt so alone, because we were young parents, and we both come from humble families. … We didn’t have medical insurance,” the mother said. “We asked God to lead us to the right place, to put us on the right path, and to put us in the hands of people that could help us.”

Meanwhile, the condition made the little girl’s lips turn blue and her hands turn yellow. She became thinner, but her abdomen swelled. She had so little energy she could only leave her bed to use the restroom.

“I don’t want to watch the other children play, because I can’t play,” Benítez told her mother. “I can’t play, and I feel bad because of that.”

As the girl’s condition worsened, Isaurralde continued to search for help. She took her daughter to the Baptist Medical Center of Asunción.

“I didn’t know anything about the hospital,” Isaurralde said. “But we felt well there. So we continued going there.”

The medical center was once an International Mission Board hospital, but through a 12-year process, was transferred to Paraguayan management. It is now a thriving medical center with a heart institute, a medical university and a legacy of sharing the Gospel with its patients.

Cardiovascular surgeon Jorge Jarolín took on Benítez’s case.

“She came in a very bad state and went straight into intensive therapy,” Jarolín said. “She went into a state called ‘terminal cardiac insufficiency’ that wasn’t even responding to the medications. In other words, we needed to find an organ for Tatiana right then.”

Jarolín knew the difficulty of finding a heart that would be the right size for Benítez. He also knew the difficulty of dealing with the little girl’s rare Type B blood. But most of all, he knew the difficulty of finding an organ donor on such short notice. The situation looked grim.

“She was not going to live two or three more days,” Jarolín said. “We needed to find a heart at that very moment … and a miracle happened.”

Two days later, a doctor in another city called saying he had heard about Benítez’s case and might have a donor heart for her. The doctor’s patient was a child Benítez’s size with Type B blood who had been diagnosed as brain dead. Jarolín took a team of pastors, assistants and a psychologist to meet the other doctor and the patient’s family.

“The hardest part was convincing the family to make the donation,” Jarolín said, “a very, very difficult thing.”

But the family agreed to the donation, and Jarolín performed the transplant the following day, Sept. 1, 2007, about a week before Tatiana’s 7th birthday. Today, she is nearly 12 years old.

“Her outcome was spectacular!” Jarolín said. “Tatiana’s case is a miracle from God!”

Only three weeks after the transplant, the patient was discharged from the hospital, and her father returned from Spain to find his little girl walking and playing again. Benítez’s parents were overwhelmed with gratitude for the medical center’s help.

“There was always someone there giving us strength, a chaplain praying with us, reading biblical passages with us,” Isaurralde said. “It was like we could never feel alone because we felt well accompanied. We felt very secure. There was warmth, a trust.”

In addition to performing the heart transplant, the Baptist Medical Center also underwrote the costs of the operation. Such monumental acts of generosity are part of the hospital’s mission to show God’s love to its patients.

Ernesto Simari, general director of the medical center, praised God for guiding Benítez’s case.

“Everything worked out in such a synchronized manner,” Simari said. “We give glory to God, because He allowed this girl to receive a heart and have a new life.”
Tristan Taylor served as an International Mission Board writer in the Americas. Read more stories about what God is doing among the peoples of the Americas here. Click here to read how the Paraguayan Baptist Medical Center Foundation continues to support the hospital. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress ) and in your email ( baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).

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  • Tristan Taylor