Meet Marcel
marcel on moms lap in hospital gown 500px

This post is also available in: Español (Spanish)

Marcel was born on May 16th, 2012. For Maria, this was the best day of her life, yet she never felt entirely at ease. Maria remembers hearing Marcel wheezing and gasping for air, whenever he would sleep. As a mother, Maria had this constant apprehension that something was not right with her baby.

One day Maria’s worst fears became a reality. Marcel was diagnosed with a life-threatening heart condition; he was going to need immediate surgery.

He was only a year old.

The day of the surgery came fast. However, just a few minutes into the surgery, the surgeon came out of the operation with devastating news. Marcel could not be intubated because he had another condition called subglottic stenosis. He could not have the life-saving heart surgery he needed. His airway was so narrow that the doctors did not know how he had survived without additional breathing support.

Marcel’s condition worsened as he grew older. He could not run and play without getting tired. He would continuously stop for air. No surgeon in Quito felt comfortable performing the surgery to allow him to breathe safely

Luckily, Operation Airways had an upcoming outreach mission in Ecuador. Marcel was almost 18 months old when he met Dr. Hartnick and the rest of the Operation Airway team. The team was able to help Marcel by performing a bronchoscopy to diagnose his condition, and safely place a tracheostomy tube. Thanks to this surgery, Marcel was finally able to get his heart surgery.

young marcel smiling in hospital room

Marcel with his new trach. 

Life for Marcel and his family was still very challenging. Living with a tracheotomy was not easy for Marcel, or his family. Maria lived in constant fear of Marcel getting hurt while playing with other children. Marcel was only allowed to attend school for a couple of hours a day. His family and teachers feared he could get hurt if he wasn’t continuously supervised.

Maria was also concerned about Marcel getting sick due to his higher predisposition for airway infections. Her worries made her extra careful when taking care of Marcel at home. For Maria, this as a 24/7 job; she would clean and suction his trachea three times a day. Marcel’s family and doctors were concerned with the quality of life he could have with a tracheotomy. There were no possible long-term solutions for him in Ecuador.

Nearly four years later, Marcel still had his tracheostomy. His heart is strong, but he can’t speak well around his trach, and his mother is always worried about his trach plugging because trach suction equipment is scarce in Ecuador, and many kids die of trach plugging each year as they just can’t breathe on their own.

Finally, on May 3rd, 2017, Marcel’s Ecuadorian medical team contacted Operation Airways The goal was to bring Marcel to the US so he could have tracheal reconstruction surgery.

marcel with mom and dr Chris Hartnick

Maria and Marcel with Dr. Hartnick

Marcel’s medical journey never stopped him from being a contagiously happy, hyper, funny, little boy.

On August 10th, 2017, Marcel had his last tracheal reconstruction surgery. He no longer needs a tracheal tube to breathe.

He woke up from his surgery and asked Maria: “Mom, where is my little tube? Can we ask Dr. Hartnick to put it back in…” Maria could not help herself; she started kissing and laughing with Marcel and the rest of the Operation Airway team.

Without a doubt will grow to be a handsome, successful young man. 

“My son is alive today thanks to the tracheotomy surgery he got”

– Maria Dolores Cox

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