Limited Teen’s Life Limitless After
Luis Ortiz spent the first two weeks of his life connected to a heart monitor in a hospital to ensure that his heart palpitations remained normal. Anchored by his side, Luis’ parents kept watch. Luis was born with a rare heart defect in which the heart’s lower two chambers are reversed in their positions. Luis remained connected to a monitor at home for a year, during which he was on medication and under the close supervision of his physicians. In the years that followed, Luis underwent several open-heart surgeries between the ages of five and 14.
“Limited”, is how Gabriela Ortiz, Luis’ mother, described family life during the 14 years that Luis struggled with his heart condition. Patience and courage were their guiding values as they faced every challenge.
“It was very difficult to see that he couldn’t be active or develop and enjoy life like a healthy child,” Gabriela said. “It was worse seeing him suffer through every episode and surgery.”
Spring and summer activities like soccer were out of the question for fear of injuries. Outdoor winter activities were also precarious because cold temperatures could trigger a heart attack. Despite the worries and setbacks, Luis’ illness united his immediate and extended family who were by his side through every surgery, eventually including his heart transplant.
“I think we were all able to endure it because of him,” Gabriela said. “He showed us how to be brave because he never complained. We tell him he’s a warrior because he never gave up. He showed us all that he had the strength to go on, so we had it, too.”
A Weary Heart
In 2008, when Luis was 12 years old, doctors said he would not withstand another surgery, so he was placed on the organ transplant wait list. Two years later, his tenacity finally hit a wall. Despite his voracious appetite for learning, Luis told his mother he couldn’t continue attending classes, one month into his first year of high school.
“You could see it,” recalled Gabriela. He couldn’t walk more than half a block. The same week he told me he couldn’t continue; we received the call that he was finally receiving a heart.”
Luis and his family arrived at Anne & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago at approximately 2 p.m., and approximately 10 hours later, doctors told them the transplant surgery had been successful.
“When the nurse said his new heart was beating perfectly, the entire family started praying and thinking about the other family,” Gabriela said. “For us this was a joyful moment, but we knew the pain another family was feeling in saying goodbye to their loved one, so we prayed for the donor and thanked them and their family.”
A Tenacious Spirit
After the transplant, Luis’ life, which had been limited for so long, was now limitless. The gift of donation made it possible for Luis to start living a full life. True to his tenacious spirit, he went back to school and joined the football team. He graduated high school and went on to obtain his bachelor’s degree in psychology.
“Donation was a miracle because without it, I don’t think Luis would be with us now,” Gabriela said. We call the donor an angel because if it had not been for that person and their family who made that decision, our lives would be completely different and not just for the immediate family but for our extended family.”
Gabriela is committed to helping increase awareness about the lifesaving benefits of donation. She has spoken at Gift of Hope events where she shares her family’s experience with donation and transplantation. Luis is also committed to honoring the gift he received, his donor and their family by continuing to be a warrior, living a full and healthy life, educating himself and always helping others.
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