Medical Mission Update #4: Ramona & Junior Get A “Second Chance” At Life In The Dominican Republic

The joy I experienced on Day One of the Medical Mission amplified on the second day — as two patients, with severely leaking heart valves, underwent mitral valve repair surgery in the Dominican Republic.

Ramona de la Cruz With Family & Doctors Before Surgery
Dr. Bernarda Cedano, Ramona de la Cruz (with family) & Dr. Fred Milla

The first patient was Ramona de la Cruz. At 68 years young, Ramona, a Jehovah’s Witness, suffered from severe mitral regurgitation. As you can see above, Ramona was surrounded by loving members of her family including her daughter and grand-daughter.

Junior Gonzalez & His Mother
Junior Gonzalez & His Mom

The second patient was Junior Gonzalez. On this, his 18th birthday, Junior needed mitral valve repair due to a perforated mitral leaflet.

Interestingly… The day actually began at the Jornada Cientifica Internacional Conference, where three members of the Mount Sinai team – Dr. David Adams, Dr. Federico Milla and Dr. Greg Fischer – provided lectures on the important guidelines for mitral valve repair, tricuspid valve surgery and cardiac anesthesia.

The Mount Sinai Medical Team At The Medical Conference Journal Cientifica International Conferenc In Dominican Republic
Jornada Cientifica Internacional Conference

After Dr. Adams’ presentation, the medical team hurried back to the operating room at the Hospital General De La Plaza de la Salud.

Dr. David Adams Operating at HGPS In The Dominican Republic
The Mount Sinai-HGPS Team Fixes Ramona’s Mitral Valve

During Ramona’s case, I was once again amazed by the seamless teamwork demonstrated by this wonderful group of people. In particular, I became fixated on the strategic and coordinated hand movements of the doctors and nurses. There was a flow, a purpose and a synchronicity that was memorable and captured (to some extent) on this video.

One of the key members of this team is Mary Joy Santillan, the cardiac nurse for the mission. I would later learn that Mary Joy is no stranger to medical missions.  During her career, Mary Joy has been on missions in Nicaragua, Indonesia, Vietnam and Thailand. This was Mary Joy’s third trip to Santo Domingo.

Mary Joy Santillan, Cardiac Surgery Nurse
Mary Joy Santillan – Cardiac Nurse

“There is a wonderful connection among the patients and the medical team on missions,” noted Mary Joy. “Each time I go on a mission, I get a special sense of appreciation from the patients… It nurtures my soul.”

After Ramona’s mitral valve repair was deemed a success, the team focused their energy on Junior Gonzalez.  On this, his 18th birthday, Junior would have mitral valve reconstruction to remedy symptoms including shortness of breath. During this fourth case of the mission, I noticed something different…. While in the operating room, I noticed that Dr. Adams was less involved in the surgical process. For most of the procedure, Dr. Fred Milla took over — along with the support of Drs. Gott and Cedano.

Dr. Fred Milla Operating In The Dominican Republic

“This is a really proud moment for me,” noted Dr. Adams. “To see Dr. Milla lead this case makes me very happy. Today, has been another great day.”

Dr. David Adams with Leonel Pirchardo at HGPS
Leonel Pirchardo & Dr David Adams

Finally… As you can see in this picture of Dr. Adams and Leonel Pirchardo, the patients operated on Day One of the mission are doing great! 🙂

To learn more about this mission, please click:

Keep on tickin!

Adam Pick
Written by Adam Pick

Adam Pick is a patient, author of The Patient's Guide To Heart Valve Surgery and the founder of

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