Athena Martinez was born with a congenital heart defect called ventricular septal defect (VSD) that would require her to undergo a transcatheter VSD closure to fix the hole in her heart.

However, at 7-weeks-old, before the scheduled procedure, Athena suffered a cardiac arrest episode due to an abnormal heart rhythm of ventricular tachycardia, or fast heartbeat rhythm. The cardiac arrest led to the cancellation of the procedure. Cardiac arrest reduces the amount of blood flow to the brain, and if no preventative action is taken, permanent brain damage can occur.

Athena was admitted into the Cardiothoracic Intensive Care Unit (CTICU), at MemorialCare Miller Children’s & Women’s Hospital, where the care team worked to prevent permanent brain damage, using treatments such as the use of hypothermia for 48-72 hours to lower her body temperature, neuroprotective medications, and continuous electroencephalogram (EEG) monitoring.

Athena’s mother, Ashley, remained hopeful and knew her daughter was in good hands with her care team and overnight nurses.  

“While in the CTICU waiting room, we received so much support,” says Ashley. “Athena’s care team stayed with us to provide us comfort and gave us reassurance that she was going to be okay while we waited.”

Once Athena became stable, Shaun Setty, M.D., medical director, pediatric and adult congenital cardiac surgery, MemorialCare Miller Children’s & Women’s Hospital, was able to perform the surgery and successfully close the hole in her heart.

Seventy-five days after her cardiac arrest, Athena was finally discharged at 6-months-old. Her care team and staff showed their support by showering her with a parade full of gifts. Even after her discharge, the whole team continued to support her and her family.

Athena’s surgery, as well as the care team’s early interventions, helped save her life and prevented her from having serious, life-long neurological defects. A year later, Athena’s health is in a much better place than it was before.

“Even after going through various organ injuries due to her cardiac arrest, Athena has been growing and thriving, and has made a great recovery,” says Yuliya Turiy, M.D., pediatric cardiology, MemorialCare Miller Children’s & Women’s Hospital Long Beach. “We have been able to slowly reduce her heart medication and control her heart rhythm.”

The value of Athena being in a full-service children’s hospital means her care doesn’t stop when she leaves the hospital. Athena continues to get regular follow-up care through the Cherese Mari Laulhere Children’s Village.  Athena is followed closely by specialists to continue her road to recovery with physical therapy, occupational therapy, speech- language therapy, and clinical nutrition all under one roof.

“I am optimistic for Athena’s future,” says Ashley. “We have the best team of doctors, nurses, and surgeons that we could ask for, and because of their hard work, our daughter is here with us today. I would recommend Miller’s Children’s & Women’s to anyone.”