NEW HYDE PARK, NY – With her beautiful 10-month-old daughter perched on the table in front of her, Vafa Haciyeva spoke emotionally through a translator to the surgeon at Cohen Children’s Medical Center who saved her life.
“I can never say enough to the doctors who gave Nazanin back to me,” said Ms. Haciyeva. “I will never forget all the kindness I’ve received at this hospital.”
When baby Nazanin was just three months old, it was discovered that she had a congenital heart defect. The family hails from the Republic of Azerbaijan where medical care is difficult to come by—especially for a complex heart defect.
Nazanin’s father, Mekhman, knew exactly what to do. Now a healthy, 29-year-old man, Mekhman was 10 when he was diagnosed with a similar condition. Thankfully, Mekhman’s situation came to the attention of Mary Reardon, program director of Gift of Life, Inc.
“The mission of the Gift of Life is to further the cause of world peace and understanding by facilitating free medical services to children suffering from heart disease, regardless of race, creed, sex or national origin and who otherwise lack access to such services,” said Ms. Reardon during a news conference held February 12 at Cohen Children's Medical Center.
Thanks to Gift of Life, the young Mekhman was brought to this country and received life-saving heart surgery. So, when he heard that his baby daughter was facing a similar situation, he immediately penned a letter to his friend, Mary Reardon.
Thus began little Nazanin’s journey to Cohen. Upon her arrival, she was seen by Dipak Kholwadwala, MD, director of the hospital's pediatric catheterization laboratory. At that point, it was discovered that the baby was suffering from a complex congenital heart problem called atrioventricular canal—a combination of heart problems resulting in a defect in the center of the heart.
That’s when Vincent Parnell, MD, chief of pediatric cardiothoracic surgery at Cohen, was brought in. During an open-heart surgery that lasted about 2 ½ hours, Dr. Parnell was tasked with closing the holes in the baby’s heart and repairing the damaged valves.
“Such surgery involves putting the baby on a heart-lung machine while we perform the surgery,” said Dr. Parnell. “The holes in the affected chambers are closed, and in Nazanin’s case, we also repaired the valve between the upper and lower chamber.”
Dr. Parnell added that such surgeries are best performed during the first year of life to prevent further stress on the heart muscle and damage to the delicate valve.
While the discussion of her heart defect was going on, a happy and healthy Nazanin amused herself by playing with an oversized Valentine’s Day balloon.