All the way from her hometown of Naples, Italy, Annamaria Di Tonto came to Houston with her family to receive a highly specialized medical procedure. While she was here, the experts at Children’s Memorial Hermann Hospital were successful in repairing her young, ailing heart, but what they didn’t expect is that she would also leave an unforgettable mark on theirs.
Annamaria was born with a congenital heart disease called pulmonary atresia. Pulmonary atresia is a malformation of the pulmonary valve in which the valve orifice fails to develop and is completely closed thereby obstructing the outflow of blood from the heart to the lungs.
At just 8 years old, Annamaria has already had two surgeries and needed a third. “Her physicians in Italy wanted to do another open heart procedure but we knew there had to be another option,” said her father, Marco. A friend of the family recommended they speak with a contact in Houston; that contact then put them in touch with John Breinholt, MD, Chief of Pediatric Cardiology at Children’s Memorial Hermann Hospital and UTHealth Medical School. After a brief conversation via video conference, Dr. Breinholt told the family he was convinced he could address Annamaria’s issue using a more minimally-invasive approach. Overjoyed at this news the family dropped everything and, just three days later, arrived in Houston to take Dr. Breinholt up on his offer.
On Monday, December 1, as Annamaria was being taken into the cath lab, one of the nurses asked her what she was wearing. The girl replied that it was a special rosary given to her by the Pope himself; she said she wanted it with her to keep her safe and protected.
The procedure was a success and Annamaria’s prognosis is excellent, according to Dr. Breinholt; it’s what happened after the procedure that is truly remarkable. Annamaria gifted her rosary – that special rosary that meant so much to her – to her clinical team with only one simple request. “I asked them to please keep it so that it might also bless and protect the other children who are treated here,” said Annamaria.
The family may be scheduled to return home to Italy on Saturday, but young Annamaria’s story has left a lasting impression on the staff of Children’s Memorial Hermann Hospital here in Houston. “We plan to frame the rosary and hang it on the wall of the cath lab, just as Annamaria requested,” said Dr. Breinholt. “What a generous gesture from such a young, compassionate spirit. We will remember and treasure this heartfelt gift for many years to come.”