Many of you might remember a story that ran in our paper last May on Victoria Cabrera, a 13-year-old little girl from Venezuela who was a family friend of Nationals catcher Wilson Ramos. Vicky, as her friends call her, was struggling with a congenital heart defect and the cost of surgery to fix the problem was becoming prohibitive.
“Victoria Cabrera, the 13-year-old ray of light Ramos has come to consider a little sister,” I wrote of Cabrera in May. The slight, bespectacled, brunette girl whose ever-present smile does well to hide the turmoil going on inside her chest.
“It’s a cruel reality that Vicky, a girl with so much love to give, has a leaky heart.
“Crueler, still, that when doctors at Miami Children’s Hospital examined her a few months after her first heart surgery, done in Venezuela in 2010, what they found was so startling they used the word “butcher” to describe her previous surgeon…
“(The Nationals) raised over $3,500 for Vicky’s doctor visit this spring. Her mother’s voice breaks telling the story. But even that act of goodwill led to another bill. Vicky is suffering now from an aortic valve insufficiency, a problem similar to the mitral issue in which blood moves backward into the heart instead of away from it. Surgery will fix it, they hope for good, but Marfa Mata, a single mother, fears the hospital will refuse to operate until her previous bill has been paid in full.”
The story (you can read the full version here) got an overwhelming response, particularly on social media, from readers and Nationals fans alike who wondered what they could do to help.
With Vicky having just passed her 14th birthday and the holiday season upon us, I wanted to provide a very happy update on their family’s situation.
Eventually, a foundation called Open Hearts was set-up for Vicky and a substantial amount of money was raised, particularly with the help of Nationals left-hander Gio Gonzalez, Ramos, the H.O.M.E foundation (Home of Miracles & Embraces) and Opera Ultra Lounge owner John Alexiades in D.C.
But even when money for Vicky began to come in, including a generous donation from the Venezuelan Food Minister, the CADIVI (the Currency Administration Commission responsible for authorizing Venezuelans to convert their money into dollars) denied Mata the approval to pay the $192,042 left on Cabrera’s previous hospital bill. There was a large public outcry in Venezuela over the denial, especially through social media, and the CADIVI relented.
The offices approved the money for Vicky on Aug. 23 and on Aug. 29, she had (what they hope will be) her final heart surgery at Miami Children’s Hospital. Vicky was in surgery for 13 hours while she had an aortic valve replacement done with the Ross-Konno procedure, considered the method of choice for this type of issue.
According to her mother, Vicky was then in a coma for three days while her heart and body recovered from the surgery. She spent several days in the Intensive Care Unit.
“It was a really complicated surgery but she hung in there and now she appears as if she never had a surgery,” Mata said this week. “The surgeons said that she is a really strong girl and that, hopefully, was the last operation for her.”
Cabrera was in the hospital until Sept. 14 and the bill was roughly $700,000 — a sum so large, again, because as foreigners, they lack American medical insurance. Mata was told that the Simon Bolivar Foundation covered the portion of the bill that she could not.
The Simon Bolivar Foundation, according to their website, is a “charitable organization founded by CITGO Petroleum Corporation with the support of Petróleos de Venezuela, S.A. (PDVSA), the national oil company of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela. The Foundation is dedicated to expanding access to health care to underprivileged individuals affected by critical illness and who also suffer from the severe backlash of poverty throughout the Americas.”
On Monday, Cabrera was back on the field at the Tigres de Aragua’s home stadium to throw out the first pitch, as she had done before, and Ramos was there to see it. Ramos, who has spent the entire year in D.C. rehabbing his torn ACL and meniscus, made the trip back to Venezuela before continuing his rehab in Washington and preparing for spring training.
Cabrera still struggles with vasovagal syncope sometimes, an issue the Mayo Clinic describes as “a brief loss of consciousness caused by a sudden drop in your heart rate and blood pressure, which reduces the blood flow to your brain.” But Mata is relieved to report that it’s much better than before and Vicky is back to being “almost normal.”
“There were hard times,” Vicky said in an e-mail. “But I believe that we must keep fighting. Never surrender. I want to have a normal life and be happy with my family and friends. We need to be faithful.
“I wish to thank Wilson and Nats fans in D.C. for their support. Every prayer made me strong and I know that I’m not alone.”