Anabel de la Rosa, 17 years after surgery in Grand Rapids to correct a life-threatening heart defect.
GRAND RAPIDS (WZZM) -- Doctors say a teenager from the Dominican Republic would not be alive today if not for a skilled medical team in Grand Rapids and the West Michigan family who nursed her back to health.
In 1985, Anabel de la Rosa was a sick baby with a serious heart defect when she was brought to what was then called Butterworth Hospital in Grand Rapids for surgery.
"She went from being a sick "blue" baby to getting a repair that turns her into a normal high school girl looking forward to a wonderful future," says Dr. Donald Malcolm, the cardiologist who helped treat the girl.
Now, 17 years later, the healthy teenage girl is back in Grand Rapids to reconnect with Ron and Pat Williams, the host family who cared for her during her recuperation, and to thank everyone who helped save her life.
"I love you," sobbed Anabel as she hugged Pat Williams after arriving at Gerald R. Ford International Airport Monday night.
"I love you too," replied Pat. "You have grown into a beautiful young lady."
Anabel was born with a transposition of the aorta and pulmonary artery. As a result, she had poor circulation of oxygen in her body and a short life expectancy. She needed an expensive, complex operation not available in the Dominican Republic.
"Her mother was told she will die," says Pat Williams.
After an appeal from Healing the Children in Michigan, doctors at what was then Butterworth Hospital in Grand Rapids agreed to treat the baby.
"Through a variety of good fortunes she was able to get from the Dominican Republic to us and get first rate care," says Dr. Malcom.
Ron and Pat Williams offered to take the baby into their home and care for her during several months of recuperation.
"I have always loved children," says Pat. "We were ready to help in any way we could."
"It's very rewarding to see her transformed from someone who didn't really have enough energy to drink a full bottle of formula -- she would be out of breath by the time she got half way through -- and then to see her today," says Ron Williams.
Because of her experiences Anabel says she wants to become a doctor -- a heart doctor, so she can help sick children the same way she was helped.
Healing the Children is a nationwide organization that connects sick children from third world countries with high quality health care.
They rely completely on donations and are not affiliated with any religious organization.