Esther Perez was born with heart defects that could have taken her young life, but thanks to a series of breakthrough procedures at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, the now-14-month-old little girl is thriving.
Using a series of conventional MRIs, 3-D MRIs and an incredible printer that reconstructed a model of the girl’s heart, doctors were able to plan her surgery, practice it and reduce her risks and increase her chances of survival.
That was the first miracle for her mother, Martha Perez, who found about her daughter's medical problem while she was still in the womb.
"I stop the pregnancy, or continue. Maybe the baby will be born for just five, 10 minutes, and then the baby maybe will be dying," she recalled, near tears.
Perez credits her faith with helping her to make it through the pregnancy, but when Esther was born, things looked bleak.
Her cardiologist said the baby just wasn’t getting enough oxygen to her body.
An early surgery provided a temporary fix, but as time went on it became clear a second, much more serious operation was needed.
Doctors decided the innovations could help, including creating a life-size model of Esther’s heart.
The paper-and-plastic model was an exact replica of Esther’s heart, so doctors could explore and strategize before the actual surgery.
"As soon as we opened the heart, it was exactly as I had seen before, so making the patch and doing the connections were quite straightforward," said Dr. Richard Kim, the cardiothoracic surgeon who operated on Esther.
Similar heart surgeries were done long before the 3-D technology was available, but doctors said it has helped increase the effectiveness and safety of similar operations.
Dr. Kim said Esther now stands a very good chance of having a healthy, normal life.
Perez said she’s grateful for the chance her daughter has been given.
"It’s a miracle," she said.