After delivering twins via an emergency c-section, Maribel sat across from her son’s cardiologist, stunned, exhausted and scared.
She had known since her 20-week ultrasound that her baby boy, Hector, had a heart defect called truncus arteriosus. Doctors explained that while normal hearts have 2 arteries, he only had 1. She knew they would likely have to travel to Spokane for her delivery, and that Hector would need surgery after he was born.
But she didn’t know that she would start having complications at 26 weeks that would force her to go on medical leave early. She didn’t know that she would go into labor at 31 weeks, deliver at 32 weeks, and face having not only a son with a heart defect, but a baby girl, Sophia, in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. And she didn’t fully understand how the reality of her son’s condition would hit her after his birth. As Maribel explains “At the beginning, when I knew my son had a heart condition, my first question was ‘what is his chance of making it?’ When they were in my belly it was ok to know that information….Now that I’ve met them and I know them, I’m not as ok knowing.” By the time Maribel found herself in the cardiologist’s office, it felt like her world had been turned upside down.
Unfortunately, the cardiologist had more bad news. Hector’s condition was more complicated than they had anticipated. One of the arteries that carries oxygen to the lungs was compromised. He had little vessels but doctors would have to do extensive corrective surgery to make the artery functional, a surgery that could not be performed at Sacred Heart. Maribel found out that they would have to wait until her son was stable and a bit stronger, and then would be transferred to Stanford, California.
Despite this barrage of scary news, the cardiologist did have one word of encouragement – during their time in Spokane, there was a place Maribel and her husband could stay close to their babies, free of charge. The Ronald McDonald House was just a few blocks away. This provided Maribel tremendous relief. “Even though there’s not a lot that I can do for them, I still just feel like I need to be right there.”
Since then, Spokane’s Ronald McDonald House has been one of the few sources of stability during a time when the future has felt very uncertain. “This experience has been such an eye opener for me, and so humbling…People from the community come in to spend time here, and cook meals here so that it’s something you don’t have to worry about. I hope that my kids and I can come back and do that someday,” says Maribel. While originally the plan was to go home to the Tri-Cities for a period of time, Hector has faced setbacks, and will likely be sent to California within a couple of weeks. Sophia has had her share of “typical” premature baby struggles, but Maribel is hopeful that she’ll be strong enough to be released before they leave so that they can all go to California together. For now, Hector is stable and continues to fight. As she says “He’s a tiny little thing, but he’s holding his own. I’m just super proud of them both.”
In the face of unimaginably difficult circumstances, Maribel continues to ground herself in optimism. “There’s hope,” she says. “No matter how hard it is. I know I have my days, but I still feel very hopeful. And we’re so blessed to have someplace like this.”