Emmitt's Story: Triumph of Resilience and Hope Following Aortic Coarctation Surgery


Young, 8-year-old boy Emmitt Gaza smiling at the camera

From a young age, 8-year-old Emmitt has  been an active and healthy child, embracing a love for experiments and a profound appreciation for science. He loves to laugh, crack jokes and is ambitious. Emmitt has set his sights on the future, aspiring to become a marine biologist when he grows up.

Amidst the laughter and the boundless energy of her son, little did Emmitt’s mother, Breanna, know that a silent concern was brewing. It was during a routine checkup that Dr. Linda Holly at South Texas Pediatrics detected a subtle heart murmur, an abnormal sound heard during the heartbeat cycle.

“It came as a shock to me, as there were no noticeable symptoms of a heart condition,” Breanna said. “Emmitt was still active and full of energy. He was never diagnosed with a heart issue when he was born. Just to be on the safe side, Dr. Holly referred us to the pediatric cardiology team at CHRISTUS Children's.” 

An Unexpected Diagnosis

In August 2023, Emmitt’s initial visit was with Jennifer Joiner, a pediatric nurse practitioner at the Heart Center, who ordered several diagnostic tests. These included an electrocardiogram (EKG), a test assessing electrical impulses in the heart to identify potential issues, and an ultrasound, that produces real time images of the heart. While the EKG yielded normal results, the ultrasound revealed a narrowing in Emmitt’s aorta, indicating the need for a coarctation repair. Emmitt was referred to Dr. Victor Bautista-Hernandez, a cardiothoracic surgeon, who would oversee the surgery to correct Emmitt’s aortic coarctation.

Coarctation of the aorta refers to a narrowing or constriction in the aorta, the primary artery that is responsible for transporting oxygen-rich blood from the heart to the rest of the body. This narrowing restricts blood flow to the lower part of the body, particularly the abdomen and legs. It also places additional strain on the heart, requiring it to work harder to pump blood through the narrowed aorta.

“I’m already a nervous wreck,” said Breanna. “But seeing my 8 year old with a heart condition raised my anxiety, especially considering the vital role the aorta plays in keeping us alive. My nerves were rattled. Dr. Bautista sketched a drawing to illustrate how he planned to address my son’s heart condition, and it brought me a sense of calm. I felt more assured about moving forward with the procedure. Emmitt is resilient, and I had confidence that, given his fighting spirit, he’d experience a successful recovery.”

Surgery Day


The day of surgery arrived, and Breanna, in her effort to maintain a positive atmosphere, said a prayer with Emmitt. The duo faced the challenges ahead with courage, smiles, and even a few jokes. With the assistance of the therapy dog and reassuring nurses, Emmitt bravely entered the operating room.

On October 2, 2023, Emmitt underwent his first heart procedure at CHRISTUS Children’s. Instead of opting for a stent to address the narrowed aortic segment, Dr. Bautista and the surgical team skillfully cut out the narrowed part of Emmitt’s aorta and seamlessly stitched the healthy ends together. This approach ensured a more permanent correction, providing a resolution to Emmitt’s heart condition.

The four-hour surgery was a success, but the true testament to Emmitt's strength was evident in the days that followed. Remarkably, Emmitt was up and walking the same day of surgery later that evening, the next day he was eating, and within days, he was back to his normal self—running, jumping and joking.

Breanna says she’s grateful for the excellent care that her son received during his post-surgery recovery.

“The staff was amazing,” said Breanna. “Dr. Bautista was thorough. I didn’t have any questions after he was done talking to us about what would happen, and what would take place before, during, and after his surgery.

He even showed us pictures of the narrow piece that he had cut out of the aorta. Dr. Bautista was optimistic that Emmitt would have a good outcome after surgery.

The nurses were fantastic. Any time Emmitt would push his button for pain meds or if he needed anything, the nurses would come to his room quickly. They were there when he needed things. They brought activities and toys to keep him occupied. You could feel the caring that the nurses had for Emmitt and the love for the work they do.”

Three days after his surgery, Emmitt was discharged home. His follow-up care involves annual checkups with his cardiologist to ensure that he remains on a positive trajectory toward a healthy future.

Emmitt Garza smiling in his hospital bed after his aortic coarctation surgery

Emmitt today

Emmitt is doing remarkably well two months after heart surgery.

“Emmitt is a resilient kid,” remarked Breanna. “He is a true momma’s boy. If he could, he’d be with me all day. If there was an option to stitch us together, he’d love that. Emmitt is my second oldest, and his 12-year-old and 5-year old brothers are thrilled that their brother is doing well and back home with them.”

For patient families facing a heart condition diagnosis, Breanna offers these words of encouragement, “I understand the fear and difficult decisions that accompany such a diagnosis.”

“But as a mother, you will know the right decision for your child. What kept me and Emmitt strong was putting our faith in the cardiology team at CHRISTUS Children’s. It was one of the best decisions that I made. Also, keeping a positive mindset helps. Put everything in God’s hands and just go from there. It will be OK.”

For more information about the Heart Center at CHRISTUS Children’s, click here: Pediatric Cardiology in San Antonio | CHRISTUS Children's Hospital 

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