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Girl, 6, gets heart fixed for birthday

As Suzzane Castillo sat in her mom’s lap, animatedly playing with a doll, Mary Ann Castillo shed tears of joy during her daughter’s belated sixth birthday party Friday morning at St. Francis Hospital Heart Center in Roslyn.

Suzzane, born on Nov. 2, 2005, had been unable to celebrate her birthday on time because she was traveling from her home in the Philippines to receive a medical procedure to repair a hole in her heart.

In 1975, Rotary District 7250, which consists of smaller rotary clubs that serve as community service groups in Brooklyn, Queens and Nassau County, created the Gift of Life project. Rotary members collaborate with doctors around the world to evaluate children for medical treatment. Part of this project is the Save a Child program, where individuals can sponsor a child to receive lifesaving treatment for $5,000.

The Capitano Foundation, based in West Islip, sponsored Castillo to come to New York and receive the procedure, and the Oceanside Rotary Club hosted the mother and daughter.

“We found out that the child had pneumonia several times,” said Marie Capitano, who runs the philanthropic organization with her husband, Sal.

The generosity was a welcome development for Mary Ann Castillo, who struggled to find care for her daughter’s condition while living in the Philippine province of Cavite. Things didn’t get much better when they made the 100-mile trek to the country’s capital of Manila.

“She had to ask to borrow money from relatives and friends just to get a private doctor consultation,” said pediatric cardiologist Dr. Samuel Bangug, a Heart Center faculty member who has been translating for the Castillos. He explained that Philippine General Hospital in Manila is too busy to serve everyone.

“It can take an entire day to book an appointment,” said Bangug.

On Nov. 9, Dr. Sean Levchuck of St. Francis Hospital Heart Center repaired the hole in Castillo’s heart. He has helped more than 100 children during his 16 years at St. Francis Hospital Heart Center and says not all cases have been the same.

“Many times [when] we do these cases, there are previous relationships with doctors,” said Levchuck, who had less information to work with in Castillo’s case. “I didn’t know them and I didn’t know whether or not they got it [the diagnosis] right over there.”

The procedure, which lasts between 15 and 30 minutes, was painless for Suzzane. She was in the recovery room by noon, and after minimal recovery time, she can already play and dance like other children.

Bangug in is contact with a doctor near where the Castillos live who will follow up once she’s home, according to Rosemary Gomez, a member of the St. Francis Hospital public relations staff.

Suzzane and her mom will return to her father and her younger brother at the end of the month after a tour of New York City and the Statue of Liberty.

When Bangug asked Suzzane what she wants to do first, she quietly said “tumakbo,” which means “to run.”

Photo: Suzzane Castillo and her mother, Mary Ann, listen to pediatric cardiologist Dr. Samuel Bangug talk during a celebration of Suzzane's sixth birthday at St. Francis Hospital heart center in Roslyn  (Nov. 18, 2011)

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