Journey of the Heart

Armed with her camera, curiosity, and compassion, photojournalist Amie Vanderford joined a medical mission to document the work of a Memphis philanthropy.

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Fanny Ortez Sanchez receives a cuddle from her mother before being taken to surgery.

Another incredible moment was witnessing a boy who had undergone surgery stand up the very next day and kick a soccer ball around his ICU room. Not all of the patients handled surgery this well, but the fact that many did was astonishing.

Two children stood out on this trip: Juan Manuel Guity, age 5, and Fanny Ortez Sanchez, 5 months. Both children have Down Syndrome and related congenital heart defects. In Fanny’s case, the middle part of her heart, where the four heart chambers meet, was missing. There was a hole between the upper two chambers and lower two chambers; therefore, she had only one atrioventricular valve (AV). The surgeon created a septum, or wall, that separated the left side from the right, and then separated the valve into two valves. Although Fanny had many complications after her surgery, she was a star in the ICU and each one of us joked with her mother that we wanted to take her home with us. Best of all, Fanny’s AV canal repair was successful.

Juan Manuel had a congenital heart defect known as Tetralogy of Fallot (TOF), which causes low oxygenation saturation of the blood and the bluish coloring of the skin known as cyanosis.

Unfortunately, due to his complicated heart anatomy and very small pulmonary arteries with collateral (extra) vessels, the surgeons were unable to do a complete repair. A short-term solution was provided in the form of a Blalock-Taussig shunt, which assists with getting more blood flow into his lungs. The longer term plan is to wait and see how his heart develops naturally. In the future, if surgery is in his best interest, he will have a diagnostic cardiac catheterization in order to get a better view of his heart’s anatomy. As one of the doctors pointed out, Juan Manuel demonstrated the strength of these kids and their ability to bounce back even from a difficult post-operative period.


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