The following news release was sent by The Valley Hospital in Ridgewood.
At age 34, Oscar Rivera was well acquainted with physical challenges. Born prematurely with severe congenital defects, he had endured several surgeries over the years to correct potentially life-threatening disorders. But nothing had prepared him for the news that he had a serious and complicated heart abnormality that could prove fatal if not immediately corrected.
One day, while working at his job as a teacher in his home town of Comayagua, Honduras, Oscar lost consciousness going up some stairs. At the urging of his wife, Claudia, he went to his local doctor, who immediately sent him to a specialist in Honduras’ capitol city of Tegucigalpa. After several extensive tests, Oscar received the diagnosis: he had a large aortic aneurism and a faulty aortic valve, both of which needed to be repaired immediately. Without the surgery he would have two to three weeks at most to live.
Because the cost of the needed surgery was prohibitive and not covered by his insurance, Oscar returned home fearing the worst. Little did he know that life would soon begin to orchestrate several small miracles that, within a few short weeks would lead to the ultimate gift of a new lease on life. While he pondered his options, Oscar’s students and fellow teachers got busy raising funds in the hope that someone would be willing to take on his case.
At the same time, Oscar’s brother searched the Internet for possible sponsors for his treatment. By chance he found the website of Cardio Start, a voluntary organization of cardiac surgeons who provide life-saving surgery for patients in third world countries, and gave them Oscar’s grave prognosis.
In another piece of luck, the information was forwarded to Mariano E. Brizzio, M.D., a cardiac surgeon at The Valley Hospital in Ridgewood, New Jersey, who had recently arranged for several third world heart patients to receive their surgeries free of charge at Valley. Upon seeing the urgency of the case, he determined to do the same for Oscar.
Against all odds, the pieces of the puzzle began to fall into place and a picture of hope began to emerge. Dr. Brizzio arranged for Oscar to be sponsored by the Rotary Club’s Gift of Life program, which donates funds to hospitals willing to provide life-saving surgery for patients who cannot afford it. Although the program was created for children, the organization was willing to take on Oscar’s case. The Rotary Club also provided Oscar with a Spanish-speaking host family, Carmen and Paul Platek of Teaneck, who have been active Rotarians for many years. In terms of the surgery itself, Valley Hospital agreed to donate the medical services required for Oscar’s surgery.
On July 5, Oscar and his wife arrived at Newark International Airport, tired, speaking very little English, and not knowing what to expect. By the following Monday, Oscar was wheeled into surgery where his heart was successfully repaired by Dr. Brizzio. That same week, Dr. Brizzio was honored with The Rotary Club’s Gift of Life “Humanitarian Award” at Season’s restaurant in Washington Township.
Today Oscar is on his way to a full recovery and a bright future. He and Claudia are looking forward to returning home to rejoin their 4-year-old son, Oscar, Jr., and the many friends and supporters who helped set this miracle in motion. When asked about how this experience has changed his view on life, Oscar replied, “I feel like I have been born again, that I have a purpose, and I feel blessed that so many people worked so hard to make this possible for me.” Dr. Brizzio is hoping to create a foundation that would fund similar surgeries for adult third world patients in the U.S.
For more information about The Rotary’s Gift of Life program, call 201-689-6000. For more information about Valley’s cardiac surgery program, please call 201-447-8377.