Teenagers watch heart surgery in Argentina
Not just a baby has been saved, but an entire family.
That was Gianluca Cacace’s awe-inspired thought after witnessing infant open-heart surgery this summer.
Bermudians Gianluca, 16, and friend Liam Peniston, 17, watched the surgery as part of a volunteer trip to Argentina with Projects Abroad.
“On one hand I was excited to see the surgery, but on the other hand worried for the child who was nine months old,” he said.
Both Saltus Grammar School students dream of becoming doctors.
“At the Hospital de Ninos, we had been watching casts taken off of children,” said Gianluca. “Then the doctor came in and asked if we wanted to witness open-heart surgery on an infant. Without any hesitation, we said ‘yes’.”
The duo spent two hours watching the seven-hour operation on a child with Down’s syndrome.
“Many children with Down’s syndrome have four problems in the heart,” said Gianluca, “this one had five. It was a very complicated operation.”
Both boys said watching the surgery was life-changing, for different reasons.
Ironically, for Liam, it confirmed something he’d suspected, paediatrics was not for him.
“I shadowed paediatrician Stephen West, some time ago, and decided paediatrics was not for me,” he said. “It’s easier communicating with adults. I think I’d like to be a general practitioner rather than a surgeon, because I like the idea of interacting with patients. Also, I think my hands would be too big for delicate surgery.”
But Gianluca had the opposite reaction; he fell in love with paediatric surgery.
“Watching the surgery, I couldn’t help thinking about the life-saving experience I had as a baby,” he said.
At 22 months Gianluca almost drowned off the North Shore.
“From what I understand, my house was being built,” he said. “We had a dock below the house, but a gate had not yet been constructed. I got out of the house and wandered down to the dock, probably because the day before we had a family get-together there. I fell into the water.”
Luckily, some workmen spotted his little body floating in the water.
He lost consciousness as he was being pulled out. Luckily, his father, Domenico, arrived just in time to administer CPR.
“Since that time, my mother, Yvonne, always thought I would be a doctor and give back to the community,” said Gianluca. “I knew I wanted to do something to help people. Until I saw the open-heart surgery I didn’t really understand what being a doctor meant. I didn’t really take my studies as seriously as I could have.
“I am going into my last year at Saltus and hadn’t picked a university. Now, I am a lot more serious. I have a purpose.”
Liam said his reasons for wanting to be a doctor were less dramatic.
“The idea grew on me over time,” he said.
Liam was the one who found Projects Abroad, an international volunteer organisation.
“Originally I was looking at doing a Habitat for Humanity trip to Malawi,” said Liam. “Unfortunately, I am working in a dive shop this summer, and the trip was over Cup Match, our busiest time.”
So he kept trawling the internet until he found Projects Abroad.
“It was ideal,” he said.
He recruited Gianluca to go with him, knowing that he was also interested in medicine.
“It was a long way to go by yourself,” said Liam. “We thought it would be a great experience. We’d both like to go to medical school in the United Kingdom.”
In Argentina, they spent several days, shadowing doctors.
They also helped to delouse young girls in an Argentinian orphanage.
“The conditions in the orphanage were not ideal,” said Liam. “Lice was a big problem. We were asked to go down there and take the lice out of the girls’ hair.”
The girls ranged in age from eight to 15.
Liam and Gianluca went into the orphanage without protective face masks or head coverings.
“We didn’t want to frighten the girls,” said Liam. “We had a great time washing the girls’ hair. Afterward we danced with them and listened to music.”
He is hoping to one day go back to Argentina, maybe through the Habitat for Humanity charity.
In his spare time, Liam enjoys swimming, playing the cello in the school orchestra and debate.
“I will be coaching the junior debate team at Saltus,” he said.
Gianluca’s passions run more to football.
“I am on the Saltus football team and looking forward to going to Canada next term to play in a Canadian Accredited Independent Schools (CAIS) tournament,” he said. “CAIS is an educational organisation that several Bermuda schools belong to.
“Last year we couldn’t go because of the hurricanes in October.”
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