When Sonia arrived in Boston from Romania in 2008 for life-saving heart surgery, no one could have predicted the chain of positive events that would follow.
Sonia was born with dextrocardia, transposition of the great arteries, pulmonary atresia, a ventricular septal defect (VSD) and an atrial septal defect (ASD).
"She was given a 10 percent chance of survival in Romania," says Sonia's mom, Oana, who brought her to Germany for two surgeries before age 1. "When the German surgeons said there was nothing else they could do, we flew to Boston to see Dr. Pedro del Nido. I had heard he was the best of the best."
The surgery was a success and Sonia was able to travel back to Romania after a few weeks. But the experience was life-changing, not only for Sonia, but also for Oana. Their time in Boston had ignited a passion she might not have otherwise discovered.
"Dr. del Nido and Dr. Gerald Marx saved Sonia's life, and I wanted to bring that level of care to the people of Romania," she says.
Oana began by creating her own non-governmental organization (NGO) to introduce newborn health screenings to the children in Romania, where there had previously been none. She then served under Health Minister Vlad Voiculescu to develop a neonatal hearing screening and to start a national electronic registry of children born in Romania.
She and Sonia, now 10, continue to make yearly trips to Boston Children's to check on Sonia's heart, spending a few weeks in Boston each spring. When their most recent visit left Sonia wondering why the intensive care unit in the Romanian hospital where she was treated as an infant didn't look like the one at Boston Children's, Oana noticed a familiar spark in her daughter. The pair started a major fundraising campaign to improve the unit.
"It was her idea and I ran with it," says Oana. "We are now raising money to give thousands of children in Romania a better chance at life, and it all began because an amazing team of physicians in Boston helped one sick little girl from across the world."