Silvia García, between Rosa Mena and Enrique Ruiz, on the steps outside the Materno. / ÑITO SALAS

Silvia García, the first child to have heart surgery at the Materno: '40 years ago they changed my life'

The hospital in Malaga has carried out more than 4,000 pediatric heart operations since October 1981


It was by chance that six-year-old Silvia García became part of the history of the Materno Infantil hospital and the first child to undergo heart surgery there for a congenital condition (she had an atrial septal defect).

A doctor drew heads or tails to decide which of two children who were waiting for an operation should be first. The coin came down on Silvia's side, and her operation took place on 23 October 1981. The other little girl had her surgery four days later.

"The heart operation they carried out on me changed my life. I have nothing but words of gratitude for them. I was able to go to university (she has a degree in History of Art), I have a job, I do sport and live a healthy life," said Silvia García at a recent event held at the hospital to commemorate its 40 years of pediatric heart surgery.

In these four decades, more than 4,000 children have been operated on for heart conditions at this hospital in Malaga.

The first one was carried out by the head of the cardiovascular surgical unit at the Carlos Haya hospital, Norberto González de Vega, accompanied by fellow cardiac surgeons Julio Gutiérrez and Manuel Ferreiros, as the present head of children's cardiovascular surgery at the Materno, Enrique Ruiz, explained.

Silvia García, who was visibly emotional, said she only had good memories of her stay at the Materno Infantil.

"For me, the operation was nothing traumatic. I had a great time in the hospital, they were lovely to me. The nurse who looked after me was like my second mother," she said.

Before being operated on for her heart condition, Silvia couldn't even play with her brother because she tired so quickly, but that situation took a 180º turn once she was out of hospital and had recovered.

"After I came home they bought me a bike and then nothing could stop me," she told the press conference, smiling at the memory.

She also recalled that while she was in hospital she lost a tooth and received a lot of presents from the Tooth Fairy.

40 years of miracles

Also at this anniversary event with Silvia were Enrique Ruiz; the provincial delegate for Health and Families, Carlos Bautista, and operating theatre nurse Rosa Mena.

"It was forty years ago that they started to perform miracles at the Materno with these heart operations," said Bautista, emphasising the "marvellous work" carried out by cardiac surgeons, cardiologists, intensive care staff, gynaecologists, anaesthetists and nurses, among other professionals.

Enrique Ruiz explained that every year at the Materno hospital between 100 and 110 cardiac operations are carried out on children, and on average they last about five hours.

Most of these involve open heart surgery, in which an extracorporeal surgery machine acts as the patient's heart and lungs, because while the operation is being performed the heart muscle is stopped and emptied of blood, Dr Ruiz explained.

González de Vega: 'I would have liked to have been at the anniversary event to see Silvia'

The cardiovascular surgeon who performed the very first child heart surgery at the Materno hospital on 23 October 1981, Norberto González de Vega, remembers that during the operation he was listening to Juan Manuel Serrat's song 'Hoy puede ser un gran día' (Today can be a great day).

"I always liked music on when I was operating. For this first one of its type, I thought Serrat defined very well the importance of that moment. We had to overcome a number of different problems to be able to start carrying out pediatric heart surgery at the Materno," says Dr González de Vega. He carried out the operation, assisted by cardiovascular surgeons Julio Gutiérrez and Manuel Ferreiros.

"I would have liked to have been at the event at the Materno to commemorate the anniversary and to see Silvia García, the little girl I operated on 40 years ago, but they didn't invite me, nor did they invite Dr Gutiérrez or Dr Ferreiros. All three of us are retired now, and living here in Malaga," he said.