When a routine wellness check-up revealed a more serious heart problem for her daughter, Heather and Jorge Cinca began to panic. Their daughter Cristina was only 6 years old at the time, and by all accounts, a healthy child.
Their local pediatrician referred Cristina to a cardiologist, who then referred Cristina to the UF Health Congenital Heart Center.
Here, the Cinca family learned Cristina’s devastating diagnosis: restrictive cardiomyopathy, a rare and life-threatening condition in which the walls of the heart are rigid, preventing it from stretching and filling with blood properly. A heart transplant would likely be necessary.
“We went all over the country searching for a second, third, fourth, and fifth opinion,” Heather said.
The Cinca family searched to find the best center and the best doctors to treat Cristina’s diagnosis. They visited several places, brought medical records to more places. Finally, they ended up finding that UF Health had exactly what they were looking for.
Four years after Cristina’s diagnosis, she was placed on the transplant list. That summer, they received the call that there was a heart for Cristina. However, she had pneumonia at that point in time and could not get the heart.
“It was devastating because it took us years to get that call,” Heather recalled. “I always worried every day, ‘Is it one flight of stairs that she runs and something is going to happen that’s going to be her last day? Is it going to be her chasing her brother one day across the yard?’ You always have that in your mind that one little thing could be the end.”
Three months later, they received the call again. Cristina received her new heart in September of 2014. She spent 15 days in the hospital before being discharged. Now, she and her family drive to UF Health for regular check-ups with Dr. Fricker, and others with the pediatric cardiology team.
“UF Health takes on cases that other hospitals won’t touch,” Heather said. “I feel like Mark (Bleiwies, M.D., Cristina’s surgeon) and Dr. Fricker can do anything. It’s the medical management before transplant and the management after transplant. We got her to the transplant, and now we have to make sure that heart lasts forever. They are experts, and that’s where we want to be. It’s a lifelong commitment.”
“I feel like I almost have two different lives,” she said. “One before transplant and then one after. And this one is so much better. UF Health is an amazing place. They saved my life. I feel like I almost grew up there, and I love everyone there.”
Heather added, “We have everyone’s cell numbers and know they are just on the other end of a phone if we need them. They also look at us as part of the team and involved us in decisions for Cristina’s care. They really took the time to get to know all of us.”
The Cinca’s extended medical family is one reason they feel it’s important to support UF Health, specifically the congenital heart center, through philanthropy.
Heather and Cristina agree it’s important to them that other families have access to the latest and greatest care, which they found throughout their experiences at UF Health.
“We want them to become bigger and better – whatever they can do for transplant patients,” Heather said. “It’s one of the best gifts you can make.”