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Family travels 3,000 miles to Phoenix for son's heart transplant

“That’s the last thing you want hear. That there’s nothing else you can do except for a transplant.”

PHOENIX — Imagine traveling thousands of miles to save your child’s life. That’s what a family from Puerto Rico did after finding out their then 5-year-old son needed a heart transplant. 

Shortly before their son Gustavo’s 6th birthday, Jose and Diana Acevedo learned that without a heart transplant he would not survive and that even if they found a heart surgeon in Puerto Rico could not perform the surgery.  

“That’s the last thing you want to hear. That there’s nothing else you can do except for a transplant,” said Diana Acevedo. 

“We don’t have anything more to give to Gustavo. You have to go to the mainland and search for other options,” said his father Jose.    

Gustavo's mom, Diana quickly began researching heart centers throughout the U.S. before finding a hometown connection, 3,000 miles away.   

"Gustavo’s cardiologist mentioned Dr. Velez. A lot of people from Puerto Rico that knew us reached out to him,” said Diana.  

Dr. Daniel Velez is a cardiothoracic surgeon at Phoenix Children’s Hospital. He's originally from the same hometown as the Azevedo's and worked as a surgeon for 6 years in the same hospital where Gustavo was barely holding on to life.

“We talked about the need for an assistive device and the next steps,” said Dr. Velez.

The next step was a leap of faith. The family traveled 3,000 miles to Phoenix where Gustavo immediately going on life support. Dr. Velez quickly implanted a Berlin Heart, a type of mechanical heart to keep Gustavo stable and strong while he waited 14 months for a heart transplant. He received his new heart in July and was discharged in September. 

Although there is still a long road ahead, the Acevedo family embraces each day with new hope for the future.  


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