Infants airlifted to Nicklaus Children's Hospital from Puerto Rico after hurricane

Doctors perform life-saving surgery on 3 babies

MIAMI – Many people in Puerto Rico are in need of medical help after Hurricane Maria, including infants, some of whom were brought to South Florida to receive treatment.

It was a race against time to save three critical babies, all of whom would have died in Puerto Rico if they didn't get the surgeries that they needed at Nicklaus Children's Hospital in Miami.

All of the infants were born with complex congenital heart defects right before Hurricane Maria battered the island.

Because power was lost and communication was very weak on the island, it was a dire situation and the babies needed to get out of San Juan as soon as possible.

Hospital officials said the babies were airlifted to the hospital 48 hours after the storm.

"Members of our team were getting phone calls saying there were babies in the hospital here that are going to die. You have to get down here," Nicklaus Children's Hospital's chief of cardiac surgery Dr. Redmond Burke said. "Our transport team and our administration were able to coordinate super high-risk flights out of Miami a thousand miles to Puerto Rico." 

All three infants were operated on and one of the operations lasted for about nine hours. In total, the three babies spent at least 20 hours in surgery. 

Antonio and Christine Pieve Vega feared their daughter Amelia would not survive. They said they are thankful for the care she received at the South Florida hospital and are calling their daughter a miracle.

"We didn't have enough gas to visit her. We didn't know exactly what was going on in the hospital. I thought she was going to die and there was nothing we could do about it. I was really helpless and frustrated," Christine Pieve Vega said. "When they told me, 'Yes, it's true, that she is going on the plane and she's going to get all the help that she needs,' I was relieved and happy." 

This is just the beginning for these families as their babies will need more treatment and surgeries as they get older and healthier. 

"Our job now is to keep them healthy, protect their brains (and) let them have as normal a life as possible," Burke said.  

The families are taking it day by day and said they are grateful for the doctors at Nicklaus Children's Hospital.

About the Author:

Sanela Sabovic joined Local 10 News in September 2012 as an assignment editor and associate producer. In August 2015, she became a full-time reporter and fill-in traffic reporter. Sanela holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in communications with a concentration in radio, television and film from DePaul University.