Stephanie Bertini

Joe DiMaggio Children's Hospital Pediatric Heart Transplant Patients Reunited With Donor Families

A special anniversary to celebrate second chances took place at Joe DiMaggio Children's Hospital Thursday where some pediatric heart transplant patients celebrated the program's fifth anniversary by reuniting with the families of donors.

"I believe organ donation is very important because it can save so many children," patient Ana Martinez said. "There are many children waiting right now, we are too young to die."

Standing before the crowd at the hospital was emotional for Martinez. She recently turned 18 years old, an accomplishment for a girl who spent most of her childhood staring death in the face.

"My mother found out seven months in the womb that I would be born with heart defects," Martinez said.

During her early years Martinez remembers battling the health issues. Then at age 13 she got really sick and doctors told her options were thin.

"I didn't feel good, I kept vomiting, they told me I needed a heart transplant at Joe DiMaggio Children's Hospital," she said.

That was five years ago, when the hospital started its pediatric heart transplant program. Since then, hospital leaders say 21 children have been given a second chance at life.

Close by Martinez Thursday was the mother of the boy whose heart she now has.

Maria Alberto's son died instantly when he was 14 years old. A brain aneurysm killed him but his mother knew his organs could save others. Martinez happened to be a match.

"God took him, at the same time he is alive in her," Alberto said. "It was very emotional, I felt happy she got it. She was about to die at the same time I was in a lot of pain."

Organ transplants can be tough for everyone involved, but they can also be experiences that give great hope for great futures, something Martinez knows all about.

"Thank you for the people at Joe DiMaggio Children's Hospital," Martinez said.

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