When 9-year-old Melvin Trujillo flew to Boston Children's Hospital from his home in Acajutla, El Salvador, for open-heart surgery in February, nobody expected that the lethargic, blue—in color and in spirits—boy would end up stealing the hearts of so many of our staff. Extremely weak, weighing only 39 pounds, and standing at a mere 3 feet, 4 inches, Melvin was barely able to walk.
Melvin was born with a congenital heart defect called tricuspid atresia, meaning that the right side of his heart didn't develop symmetrically with the left side. El Salvadorian hospitals aren't equipped to perform the surgery Melvin needed. But at Children's, he got that surgery soon after he arrived, as Emile Bacha, MD, volunteered his time to perform a Fontan procedure that vastly improved his quality of life and increased Melvin's life expectancy by decades.
Melvin had been registered with the organization Gift of Life New England, and two years of their fundraising, in conjunction with Boston University student members of the rotary club, paid off. They had enough money to sponsor a child with a life-threatening heart condition and fly that child to Boston for surgery—and Melvin's name was at the top of the list. Karen Jacobs, clinical professor at B.U. and Rotary advisor, says, "The Cardiology staff and Children's donated all of their time, energy and love to make a difference in this child's life."
After the surgery, Melvin's color returned to normal and his spirits soared. He was able to tackle his next hurdle: getting over his fascination with American TV, which had taken hold in the few days while he awaited surgery. Soon, Melvin began spending every possible moment in the playroom on 8 East. "He was riding Big Wheels down the hallway, giving high-fives and saying, 'thank you,' to everyone," says Lynne Polsi, Child Life specialist in Cardiology. "He even tried to say 'Sponge Bob Square Pants' in English before he left." Melvin also made friends with the B.U. students who'd worked hard to get him here, and after days of playing together, they all decorated a ceiling tile on 8 East with their handprints.
Melvin's instant transformation into a spirited, outgoing boy was shocking for his mother, Maria Amaya. She'd been carrying him everywhere in El Salvador, since he was too weak to walk and his family couldn't afford a stroller. "He was so ill and now he is running around; I honestly feel like this is a miracle," she says in Spanish. Amaya had been frightened and overwhelmed when they arrived in America, but was soon put at ease. "The doctors and nurses impressed me because they treated me so well," she says. "Some of the staff spoke Spanish, so when I spoke in Spanish, I felt very comfortable." When Felicia Perez, an environmental assistant, noticed Amaya and Melvin speaking Spanish, she asked if Amaya had eaten anything. When she answered 'no,' Perez brought them in a dish of rice, beans, chicken and plantains that night after work. "I'm an immigrant in this country, too, so I know how it feels," says Perez.
Clinical asistant in Cardiology Michelle Fernandez also put her Spanish skills to use, taking Melvin and Amaya through the cafeteria and distracting Melvin in Spanish during procedures. "He was so strong, even during painful procedures like getting his chest tubes removed," she says. "He had so much energy—he couldn't wait to play soccer when he got home." Melvin's goals don't stop at sports, though. He's also eager to go back to school, and even told Jacobs that he wants to be a doctor some day.
Melvin was excited to go home at the end of February after being granted a clean bill of health. He'd missed his brother, sister, father and school pals. But, believe it or not, he was sad to leave the Boston winter. "The snow was my favorite part!" he said, in Spanish. "It's very beautiful, and I've never seen anything like it. My father asked me to bring him some." While Melvin will remember Boston for its snow flurries, his mom will never forget Boston for another reason. "It was in this city that the miracle happened, so my son can live," she says.