A pair of teenage boys from El Salvador, who had never been out of Central America, arrived Monday at Advocate Good Shepherd Hospital near Lake Barrington for cardiac procedures expected to change their lives.
Both William Bautista and Gerardo Aguilar suffer from arrhythmia, or an irregular heartbeat. The condition can result in not enough blood pumping to the brain, heart and other organs, and generally leaves them tired.
They underwent blood work and prescreening procedures on Monday in advance of their four-hour surgeries later this week. William, 15, will undergo his on Thursday, followed by Gerardo, 13, on Friday.
If all goes as expected, they will leave the hospital the same day and, after some time to rest with local foster families, return home in early December to lead full and normal lives.
"I can't wait to see my family again," Gerardo said, "and play soccer with my friends."
Their trip to the United States was arranged through a medical mission sponsored by Healing the Children, a nonprofit organization based in Spokane, Wash., that has a regional office in Barrington.
Officials at Good Shepherd have been partnering with the organization since 2007 to make needed medical care available for children in Third World countries.
Since then, Dr. Raymond Kawasaki, a cardiologist on staff at Good Shepherd and at St. Alexius Medical Center in Hoffman Estates, has treated more than a dozen patients, and all with the same arrhythmia condition.
"You can imagine the effect on young boys like this and having to tether them back." Kawasaki said. "But a lot of these rhythm problems can be cured. There are not too many things in medicine that can be cured, but this is one of them."
Kawasaki specializes in electrophysiology and will treat the boys with an ablation procedure that guides a thin electrode up through the body and into the heart to eradicate abnormal heart tissue. The procedure is done on a limited basis in El Salvador, but Kawasaki performs it up to 70 times a year, he said, including on three to five children annually through Healing the Children.
Kawasaki met his new patients on Monday. Returning young people like them to active teenage lives still drives him.
"This can be life-altering for them," he said. "This is why I went into medicine."
Gerardo lives in the city of San Marcos, outside the capital city of San Salvador, where he was diagnosed with arrhythmia at the age of 6. William lives in the town of Cuscatancingo, also located outside of San Salvador, where he loves to ride his skateboard.
"I try not to do too much," William said through an interpreter, "but I always get so tired."
This will be the second time he undergoes an ablation for his heart condition. He has high hopes for a cure.
"I hope it will be life-changing," he said, "and that everything will be different."