A Miracle for Marcela: Text to FFTP Leads to Guatemalan Infant’s Lifesaving Surgery in the U.S.

COCONUT CREEK, Fla. (Nov. 17, 2021) A Univision news story in June about a baby born in Guatemala with a life-threatening heart condition resonated so profoundly with a Fort Lauderdale hair stylist that she recorded the broadcast on her cell phone and texted it to a client who works at Food For The Poor, imploring her to help.

Three months later, 9-month-old "Baby Marcela" or "Marcelita" was in the United States receiving lifesaving cardiac surgery, thanks to the text and generous donors of FFTP. On Saturday, Nov. 20, she will return home to Guatemala to continue her recovery and prepare for more surgery next year.

The turn of events has been nothing short of a miracle - just in time for the holidays.

"I am very grateful for the support of so many people because Marcela touched so many hearts," said Isabel Paredes, Marcela's mother, who spoke through an interpreter. "For us, it was impossible, but for God, it was totally possible! I asked the Lord for the blessing to see my daughter healthy and to be able to see her grow up. If Food For The Poor and the people that donated had not helped us, I wouldn't have known what to do."

Marcela was born last Dec. 31 with ectopia cordis, a rare condition in which babies are born with their hearts partially or entirely outside their chest cavities. Only eight of every 1 million babies have ectopia cordis, and 90 percent of them die within three days of birth. With no doctor in Guatemala able to perform the surgery, her best option would be to receive treatment in the United States.

Her parents, whose family income is the equivalent of about $450 per month, focused on getting their baby the care she needed. Family and friends mounted a fundraiser to pay for expenses, church members prayed for a miracle for Marcela, and Univision broadcast the story of her plight, which caught the eye of hairstylist Xiomara Florencio.

"I will never forget what I felt at that moment... my eyes filled with tears," said Florencio, who spoke through an interpreter. "As a mother, I identified a lot with Marcelita's mother. I felt the helplessness of not having the funds to cover this expensive and necessary operation for Marcelita's life."

Florencio sent a text of the video to her client Fatima Pray, senior development advisor at FFTP, to see if the organization could help. Pray brought Marcela's story to her director, and within a few weeks, the Have a Heart for Marcela campaign was born.

FFTP sought the help of Boston Children's Hospital and Dr. Sitaram Emani, director of their Complex Biventricular Repair Program and surgical director of Adult Congenital Heart Surgery. Dr. Emani recognized Marcela's weakening condition and wanted to help, he said. He also admired her mother's determination to get Marcela the care she needed.

Recognizing the family's financial struggle, Dr. Emani and Boston Children's provided the surgery at a significantly lower cost, and FFTP's generous donors paid for the surgery, travel and other expenses. Boston Children's took the added step of providing housing and transportation to and from the hospital for the duration of Marcela's care. Her paternal aunt, Rosa Paredes, who lives in the United States, held a fundraiser and donated the proceeds to FFTP. American Airlines provided accommodations during the family's layover in Miami. Florencio even had an impromptu fundraiser in her salon to help the family pay for paperwork and testing associated with the trip.

"It truly is one of the great miracles of life the way Baby Marcela's story has unfolded since her story aired," FFTP President/CEO Ed Raine said. "The outpouring of love and support has been remarkable. We are humbled by Xiomara Florencio's faith in our organization to help the less fortunate, and we are forever grateful to our donors and others who rallied around this beautiful baby and supported her treatment."

Marcela had surgery on Sept. 15. With a team of more than 10 clinicians and specialists, Dr. Emani performed a delicate five-hour procedure to correct defects in her heart. She will have a second procedure to complete her treatment in about six months. In the meantime, Marcela was fitted with a shield to protect her heart during her recovery.

Although a second surgery is needed next year, Florencio is grateful for the distance Marcela has already covered, and proud that the journey began with her sitting down to watch the news after a long day's work.

"I thank God for this wonderful miracle," Florencio said. "I will not tire of sharing this beautiful story with many people who at some point can help another angel like our little Marcelita."
Food For The Poor, one of the largest international relief and development organizations in the nation, does much more than feed millions of hungry children and families living in poverty primarily in 17 countries of the Caribbean and Latin America. This interdenominational Christian ministry provides emergency relief assistance, clean water, medicine, educational materials, homes, support for vulnerable children, care for the aged, skills training and micro-enterprise development assistance. For more information, please visit www.FoodForThePoor.org.

Ernestine Williams

Public Relations