In historic move, Cuban boy to get heart surgery at Le Bonheur in Memphis
By Tom Charlier of The Commercial Appeal Yesterday 7:17 p.m.
Patrons at the Children's Museum of Memphis on Sunday likely didn't
glance twice at the brown-haired, green-eyed 3-year-old sliding down the
chute of the FedEx display plane and "milking" the mechanical cow.
But Manuel Alejandro Martinez has a special distinction among youngsters.
He's the first Cuban child since that nation's revolution in the 1950s
to come to the U.S. for cardiovascular surgery, said Bill Pickens,
founder of Gift of Life Mid-South. His group worked with another
Memphis-based nonprofit organization, the International Children's Heart
Foundation, and U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen, a Memphis Democrat, to arrange
for Manuel's treatment at Le Bonheur Children's Hospital.
On Thursday, Manuel will undergo lifesaving surgery at Le Bonheur to
have a heart valve replaced. The operation is needed because he was born
with tetralogy of Fallot, a congenital condition characterized by a
series of heart defects that cause oxygen-poor blood to be pumped
throughout the body.
The boy's need for surgery was discovered during a medical mission by
the ICHF, which was working to conduct operations in Cuba in partnership
with surgeons from that country. Although Cuba is recognized for its
strong health care system and large number of specialists, doctors
determined that the operation should be done in the U.S.
"The equipment and stuff they need to do the operation weren't
available," Pickens said.
Le Bonheur, one of the nation's leading children's hospitals, was an
obvious choice, he said. "Le Bonheur does this kind of procedure on a
The visit was approved after six months of negotiations between American
and Cuban officials. It follows President Barack Obama's initiative to
re-establish diplomatic relations with Cuba, a move symbolized by the
reopening of the U.S. Embassy in Havana last August.
"If we hadn't had that, it would've made this a much more difficult
task, if not impossible," Pickens said.
Upon hearing of the foundation's efforts to bring Manuel to Memphis,
Cohen wrote Le Bonheur in support of the transfer. In a prepared
statement, the congressman praised Cuban Ambassador José Ramon Cabañas
Rodríguez for his assistance in Manuel's trip, which Cohen said would
help "advance medical diplomacy between Memphis and Cuba."
Pickens said the foundation considered having the operation done in
Miami. But surgery there might have become "too political," given the
intense opposition to Cuba's Communist government among that city's
large Cuban population, he said.
Manuel likely will need another heart valve-replacement operation before
he's an adult, Pickens said.
Although Manuel will be the first Cuban child since the 1950s to come to
the U.S. for heart surgery, another renowned Memphis institution — St.
Jude Children's Research Hospital — has treated Cuban kids for cancer,
according to Cohen's office.
Source: In historic move, Cuban boy to get heart surgery at Le Bonheur
in Memphis -