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El Salvadorian teens receive free heart procedures

El Salvadorian teens William BautistGerardo Aguilar came Barringtlast week for procedures thare expected cure their heart conditions — free charge.

El Salvadorian teens William Bautista and Gerardo Aguilar came to Barrington last week for procedures that are expected to cure their heart conditions — free of charge. | Laura Pavin/Sun-Times Media

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Updated: January 26, 2014 2:45AM

Two El Salvadorian teens came to Barrington earlier this month for procedures that are expected to cure their heart conditions — free of charge.

On Nov. 11, Dr. Raymond Kawasaki, a cardiac electrophysiologist at Advocate Good Shepherd Hospital, was able to shake hands with William Bautista, 15, and Gerardo Aguilar, 14, both of whom suffer from tachycardia, a type of arrhythmia characterized by a rapid heart beat that prevents them from participating in high-exertion activities.

By the end of the week, the teens underwent a life-changing procedure, called an electrophysiology study with catheter ablation.

Kawasaki connected with Bautista and Aguilar through Healing the Children, a non-profit organization that finds doctors willing to donate their services to children in need from countries that lack the same level of medical treatment.

“We’ve had 12 kids come here from El Salvador, all with the same problem, more or less,” said Jeff Degner, president of Healing the Children’s Illinois-Indiana Region.

Left untreated or without close monitoring, an arrhythmia can cause damage to the brain, heart and other organs.

During the four-hour procedure the abnormal heart tissue that causes the arrhythmia is identified and destroyed with heat or freezing energy that’s applied through thin, electrode catheters that are inserted into blood vessels, Kawasaki explained.

Kawasaki said he performs this procedure an average of 50 to 70 times per year. Four or five of the procedures are done for free for kids sent by Healing the Children.

He remembered one boy, Fernando, who was forced to lead a mostly inactive life before the surgery. Two weeks later, his foster family sent him a picture of Fernando zip lining, which he had never done before.

“He had never done it before or played many sports because he was always scared his heart would start racing, ... but he was off his medications and doing great,” Kawasaki said. “It’s life-altering in many ways, and that’s the reason why I do this.”

The success rate for the procedure, which has been performed by doctors since the 1990s, is about 90 percent or higher, Kawasaki said.

Bautista and Aguilar were expected to be able to start increasing their activity levels in about a week’s time, and can be running and jumping within 30 days.

Bautista said he plans to play plenty of sports and other physical activities with his friends and family members once he recovers. Aguilar said he plans to go surfing.

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