- Associated Press - Monday, December 15, 2014

HOUSTON (AP) - This is a story about signs and miracles. Oh, it’s about science, too, but there’s one little girl who would like you to see the story through her eyes.

Annamaria Di Tonto, 8, who lives in Naples, Italy, was born with a heart valve that didn’t work. She had her first surgery at the age of 1 month and her second when she was 3, to give her an artificial pulmonary valve to allow blood to flow properly to her lungs.

Then last June, say her parents, Marco Di Tonto and Francesca Piroli Torelli, Italian doctors recommended another valve replacement. That would mean another risky open-heart surgery, more build-up of scar tissue, another month bedridden. “That was a bad moment,” said Marco Di Tonto through an interpreter. “It’s very invasive and the recovery is intense.”

Every surgery makes the next one riskier, so Annamaria’s parents began casting about for something, anything, to keep her from going through that, the Houston Chronicle reported.

Meanwhile, Annamaria’s grandfather, Mauritzio Di Tonto, arranged for Annamaria to meet Pope Francis. At the meeting, the pope gave the little girl a rosary he had blessed. He told her it would be her protection. “This one is special,” Mauritzio told the pope, speaking of his granddaughter. And with that, Pope Francis kissed Annamaria.

And that, the parents say, is when things started to happen.

Mauritzio sought help from his friend Mauro Ferrari, president and CEO of the Houston Methodist Research Institute, who had a Skype conference with the parents. Mr. Ferrari contacted Dr. Huie Lin, who specializes in treating adults with congenital heart defects. Dr. Lin talked to Dr. John P. Breinholt, pediatric cardiology chief at Children’s Memorial Hermann Hospital and UT Health.

Dr. Brienholt, too, video-conferenced with the parents. He said Annamaria didn’t need open-heart surgery. In fact, she didn’t even need a valve. The problem, he said, was a narrowing of the blood vessels to the lungs, which could be corrected with a minimally invasive procedure.

“All I can tell you is this is what I think she needs,” he told them.

They were convinced. Dr. Breinholt cleared a spot on his calendar and within two days, the family was on a plane to Houston. Annamaria brought two important possessions with her: a stuffed giraffe she’s had from birth and, of course, the rosary.

Francesca Torelli said she was immediately impressed by “the warmth and support and great humanity” of the people she met, especially Mr. Ferrari. “We felt not alone. We felt adopted.”

Annamaria checked into the hospital and was given a stuffed version of Children’s Memorial Hermann’s mascot, Topper - a giraffe.

On Dec. 1, Annamaria went for her procedure, carrying the rosary for protection. She kept it with her.

Dr. Breinholt threaded a catheter through a blood vessel in her leg. He reopened some vessels from her legs, fixed a problem with a stent already in place and used a balloon angioplasty to open up the pulmonary artery.

Annamaria will need a new valve in a few years, Dr. Breinholt said, but that, too, can be done with a catheter. (Valves need to be replaced because children grow and artificial valves don’t.) She will also need one when she reaches adulthood.

But for now, Annamaria, with her inquisitive mind and infectious giggle, is fine. Up and running around, in fact. She spent Dec. 4 at the research institute with Ferrari and the translator, Ennio Tasciotti (“It’s not often you get a scientist as an interpreter,” he said) doing experiments and looking in microscopes.

“Her prognosis is excellent. I expect her to have a normal life,” said Dr. Breinholt.

And the rosary? Annamaria left it at the hospital, so that it could protect other children. Dr. Breinholt said they will put it in a frame, along with a picture of the little girl being kissed by the pope.

Copyright © 2019 The Washington Times, LLC.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.

 

Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide