This little boy – full of life and curiosity – fills me with happiness. My gratitude overflows. Through such a terrifying experience, I regained hope for the world and love for people. Their selflessness and tremendous help saved my son’s life, and in the process, they saved mine too.
BUENOS AIRES, Argentina — Fear consumed me the night I found my one-year-old son Valentino struggling to breathe. We leapt in the car to make our way to the hospital. My nerves flared and I tried to calm myself down, feeling utterly helpless. When we arrived at the hospital, I took him out of the car and held him tightly in my arms, rushing through the crowd of nurses and visitors. When the doctors examined him, they came to a stark conclusion. He needed surgery. Little did I know that a team of professionals and a 3D-printed exoskeleton would save Valentino’s life.
At the hospital, the doctors rushed to perform an endoscopy on Valentino, revealing congenital tracheal stenosis and bronchomalacia in his left bronchus. These two serious, rare, and life-threatening conditions left me begging for a solution.
My heart sank and I fought back tears when the doctors told us they had to perform surgery due to a pulmonary sling, a type of vascular anomaly that compresses nearby structures. They recommended placing an exoskeleton made of biodegradable material in his left bronchus. From what I heard, this exact procedure in the bronchus had only been done once, in the United States in 2013. The thought of it terrified me, but I knew I had no choice if I wanted to save my baby.
Gastón Bellia Monzón, the only doctor in Argentina familiar with the procedure, contacted us swiftly and agreed to perform the surgery, but we needed an exoskeleton. The team of researchers at the biology lab at the National University of General San Martín worked tirelessly throughout July and August to manufacture the part we needed using a state-of-the-art 3D printer.
They worked against the clock for weeks and crafted 50 complete exoskeletons including 100 pieces until they achieved the exact part required to fit my son. Afterwards, the National Commission of Atomic Energy sterilized the piece with gamma rays. Tears came to my eyes as I considered all the people who jumped in to help us – strangers we never met before. Seeing their humanity filled me with appreciation.
Every night leading up to the operation, I paced frantically around the house – back and forth. I prayed tirelessly for the surgery to work, desperately anticipating the date on the calendar. Then, on August 21, 2019, they wheeled my son into the operating room. As I sat in the waiting room while my son underwent surgery, the entire world stood still. Every minute felt like an hour. Just behind the closed doors in front of me, my child laid on a bed unconscious, somewhere between life and death.
When the doctors finally came out of the doors, I held my breath. “The surgery was successful,” they announced. Joy exploded out of me like an eruption that could not be contained.
Today, Valentino plays and runs everywhere. This little boy – full of life and curiosity – fills me with happiness. My gratitude overflows. Through such a terrifying experience, I regained hope for the world and love for people. Their selflessness and tremendous help saved my son’s life, and in the process, they saved mine too.
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