A mother’s love creates an enduring legacy for pediatric cardiology research

Rosario Arias Larrinaga
Rosario Arias Larrinaga

Rosario Arias Larrinaga would never want the spotlight, according to her daughter, Teri Bailey. Born in 1927 to Spanish immigrants, Larrinaga graduated from Plant High School in Tampa at 16. She went on to Florida State University, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in business administration, becoming the first in her family to graduate college.

She and her husband, Jose Luis, raised three children while growing successful businesses.

Larrinaga was in her 40s when she became pregnant with baby Dan. Despite a slightly difficult pregnancy, she experienced a normal delivery in Tampa on Friday, March 3, 1972. The following day, however, hospital staff noticed something wasn’t right. Baby Dan was turning blue.

The doctors couldn’t understand the problem, and they recommended baby Dan go to the University of Florida for care. There, doctors learned he was suffering from a congenital heart defect. Unlike today’s technology advances that can detect these conditions in utero, doctors were not able to determine this condition until after baby Dan’s birth.

“My dad followed the ambulance to Gainesville and remained overnight,” said Mike Larrinaga, one of Dan’s older brothers. “On Sunday morning, the medical team determined surgery would be needed on Monday. They told my father to return to Tampa to care for my mother, who was still in the hospital.”

Tragically, baby Dan passed away the evening of Sunday, March 5, before the surgery could take place.

“While my dad was sleeping, I received the phone call from our pediatrician that my baby brother passed away,” Mike Larrinaga recalled.

His mother never saw baby Dan alive. The entire family was devastated.

“I had never seen her like that before,” Mike Larrinaga said. “She looked defeated. Until this point, she had never lost anybody. And she blamed herself. Of course it wasn’t her fault.”

But Larrinaga was determined to endure, despite the tragedy. She and her husband put their children through college — and law school. Mike and his brother earned undergraduate degrees from Florida State University, like their mom. Bailey (BA ’83) studied philosophy and English at the University of Florida, earning her bachelor of arts from the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

Larrinaga began making annual gifts to support pediatric cardiology programs and research at UF as a way to honor her son’s legacy. Over the years, she would send a note to the pediatric cardiology team along with each gift. It wasn’t until 2013 — about 40 years later — that she would visit the hospital where baby Dan took his final breaths.

“My mother and I had been in conversation with the development office for years about my mother making a major gift,” Bailey said.

Coincidentally, a colleague of Bailey’s happened to be the daughter of the physician who cared for baby Dan all those years ago: Gerold L. Schiebler, M.D., a professor emeritus, distinguished service professor and the former chair of the department of pediatrics.

Rosario Arias Larrinaga with her family

“I talked to Bettina Brown (Schiebler’s daughter) about her dad and my mom meeting and touring the congenital heart center,” Bailey said. “My mom got to meet Dr. Schiebler, his wife and one of their daughters. It was quite emotional for both of them.”

It was during this visit that the Larrinaga family met baby Dan’s care providers and viewed his medical record. Remarkably, the family learned that because of the generosity of Larrinaga and others like her, the doctors now had the technology to detect and treat the congenital defect Dan was born with. Now they could save more lives.

With a decadeslong career in pediatric cardiology, Schiebler said the need for continued funding in this specialized area continues to grow.

He noted that because of the advancements this field has made over the last 40 years, funds are also needed to help support continued care of adults with congenital heart defects who were treated as children. During Larrinaga’s tour in 2013, the strides researchers and physicians have made were evident.

“It was a great visit, and we were so surprised,” Bailey said. “We met kids who were walking around with artificial hearts, and it’s like, ‘Oh, my.’” They showed us a video of what they do now for kids who have the same condition as Dan, and how the survival rate is around 100% now.”

Mark Bleiweis, M.D., director of the UF Health Congenital Heart Center, was also part of that memorable tour.

“It was an honor to bring the Larrinaga family to the congenital heart center and show Mrs. Larrinaga how her longtime generosity, along with other donors, have helped us truly advance the way we care for patients and produce life-changing research,” Bleiweis said.

Mark S. Bleiweis, M.D., director of the UF Health Congenital Heart Center, in the operating room.

Long before this tour, Larrinaga knew she would be making a larger gift to benefit this research.

“She always had in her mind that she was going to leave them a million dollars,” Bailey said.

Instead, Larrinaga decided to leave her condominium. She passed away last fall at 93 years old. Her bequest was realized, and the property sale resulted in a generous gift to benefit pediatric cardiac research in perpetuity.

“Dedicated funds for research give longevity on a fiscal basis so that people can plan their research projects, knowing how much they will need when they apply for grants and other funding sources,” Schiebler said.

Pediatric cardiology research not only benefits young patients, but it also lengthens the continuum of care as they grow older, moving from pediatric to adult treatments.

“Funding an area like pediatric cardiology research is critically important to our understanding of potential mechanisms leading to heart defects as well as long-term care required for patients who endure congenital cardiologic illness,” said Desmond A. Schatz, M.D., the UF Health Shands Children’s Hospital’s interim physician-in-chief and interim chair of the UF College of Medicine’s department of pediatrics.

Untold numbers of patients, families, researchers and others will no doubt benefit from Larrinaga’s generosity and the reason she wanted to give back.

“She was very humble,” Bailey said. “She didn’t want to put her name on this. She wasn’t doing this to try and get credit; she was doing this because she wanted to help kids and their parents.”

Both siblings credit their mother for being who they are today. She not only taught her children determination and perseverance through her actions, but she also left an indelible legacy for other families to strive for the same values.

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Dan richard Larrinaga pediatric cardiology research endowed fund

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Baby Dan’s name and memory will live in perpetuity thanks to his mother’s generous gift. Her bequest established the Dan Richard Larrinaga Pediatric Cardiology Research Endowed Fund, ensuring his legacy continues forward.