Rosalyn Perez was seven months pregnant when doctors realized the baby boy in her womb was missing half of his heart.
“As soon as he was born, they took him to Miami Children’s Hospital, and five days later he had open heart surgery,” Perez said of her son Jacob, who will turn 7 on June 19.
“At four months, he had his second open heart surgery. And at four years old, he had his last open heart surgery. So it’s been three open hearts and four catheterizations. After his last surgery, he developed epilepsy and started having seizures.
“The hardest part after the surgeries is when they discharge you from the hospital, and you take home a fragile baby with his whole chest in stitches. You don’t know how to take care of it — and it’s your baby.”
Life hasn’t been easy for Jacob, his mother or his younger brother, 5-year-old Jayden. But the Southern Florida chapter of the Make-A-Wish foundation made Friday a special day for them and another Miami family whose son is also battling a life-threatening medical condition.
With the help of several hundred employees from Assurant Solutions in Cutler Bay, the families learned how and when their wishes will be granted during a “wish reveal” party Friday morning.
Jacob, who loves the water and is a big fan of Disney, will be going on a five-day Disney Cruise to the Bahamas with his mother and brother Aug. 10, leaving from Port Canaveral.
Nicolas Reyes, a 7-year-old whose kidney was removed when he was 3 because of cancer, only to see the disease return in his back a year later, will be going to Pittsburgh in August with his parents to get a special tour of the National Aviary.
“When he did the interview with Make-A-Wish, they told him, ‘The world is yours, what do you want?’” Nico’s father, Francisco, 43, said Friday.
“So he said, ‘I just want a parakeet.’ I told them he’ll be back in 20 minutes. Then, I told him I’d get him the parakeet, ask for a second wish. And that’s what he said — he wanted to see a lot of birds.”
All expenses for both trips are being covered by the Assurant branch in Miami, which spokeswoman Ana Rojas-Filliben said would like to start granting wishes with the foundation annually.
Friday, hundreds of Assurant employees waited outside the building to welcome both families with cheers. The families were treated to lunch and a special ceremony featuring a parrot and an owl brought over from Zoo Miami, which awarded both families annual passes to the zoo. The employees decorated the lunch room with a large cardboard cruise ship and paintings made by elementary school students.
“I love to see Jacob happy,” Perez said. “It brings me happiness.”
Perez, who lives in West Kendall and gets a lot of help caring for Jacob from her mother and sister so she can go to work, said doctors don’t know how long Jacob will live.
“There’s not a lot of technology or research or information out on his condition,” she said. “Before, babies with his condition would be born blue and pass away. Some of the oldest kids now with his condition are in their 20s.
“It’s in the back of our heads all the time. But we hope something comes out in the next few years to help him.”
Nico, who finished his last chemotherapy sessions exactly a year ago, still has to return for checkups regularly. His mother, Valentina Lopez, 43, said doctors won’t declare Nico’s cancer completely in remission until he’s been free of it for five years.
“I’m a strong person of faith and I believe things happen for a reason,” she said. “This has brought us closer together as a family, brought us closer to God than any other times in our lives.”
Valentina said eventually the family would like for Nico to have a sibling.
“I always think our little girl is going to drop at the foot of our house and we’re going to take her,” she said. “So we’ll see.”