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HEART SURGERY WORKS FOSTER PARENTS HELP SAVE ECUADOREAN GIRL'S LIFE.

Byline: Amy Raisin Darvish Staff Writer

NEWHALL - When little Danna, then 3 months old, arrived at the Boyer home from Ecuador last December to undergo heart surgery, the tiny girl with the full head of hair was blue and, according to doctors, had only a slim chance of surviving.

``She was very severe,'' said Chris Boyer, the Newhall woman who has cared for the baby for nearly five months. ``She was very blue and very skinny. Her little calves and thighs were the same size. She had a 10 (percent) to 20 percent chance of making it.''

On Friday, however, the 8-month-old was in fine form in her pastel pink outfit, giggling and blowing raspberries at Boyer. A peek under her button-up cotton jumper revealed a vertical scar in the healing stages.

With a pink, healthy color and easy, curious demeanor, Danna (pronounced Donna) Christine Ramon will return in a week to her parents and older brother in Ecuador, to a family that agreed to give their baby daughter to strangers temporarily in order to save her life.

Chris Boyer and her husband, Carl, former mayor of the city of Santa Clarita, have served as foster parents to eight children over the past dozen years, all of them brought to the United States for treatment of severe or life-threatening ailments.

Little Danna and thousands of other children have been discovered, escorted to and treated in the United States with the help of Healing The Children, a national nonprofit organization that helps find medical care for children in underdeveloped countries.

Chris Boyer, a grandmother of three, will accompany the baby home to the city of Cuenca, where the little girl she has grown to adore will be reunited with her electrician father, her mother and 12-year-old brother.

``They're a well-to-do family. Her father makes $3,000 a year, which is very good there,'' Boyer said. ``As a mother, if I had to send my child away (for medical treatment), I don't know. I just try to put myself in her mom's place.''

Danna was born with a heart condition in which the two main arteries are transposed. In layman's terms, the blood intended to go to her brain was being pumped to her lungs, and vice versa.

Two weeks after Danna arrived in Southern California on Dec. 8, she was admitted to UCLA Medical Center. Three days after Christmas, surgeons opened her chest and began one of two procedures to correct the heart defect.

Doctors opted not to stitch up the chest until the second procedure was complete, leaving the chest open for three weeks.

``She was on so many drugs,'' Boyer said. ``Doctors (induced paralysis on) her so she wouldn't move or pull at her tubes. This metal thing held her chest open and they wrapped it in cellophane. You could see right in, see her heart beating.''

When Danna returned to the Boyers on Feb. 25, she had to be weaned from methadone, the same drug used to help heroin addicts kick the habit. After weeks of heavy sedation from drugs, the baby, just like heroin abusers, showed signs of withdrawal once the drugs were stopped.

``She was so sick. She was throwing up, crying,'' Boyer said. ``But we finally were able to take out her (feeding) tube and it's been a bit of a struggle to get her to eat from a bottle. But she's doing it. She's just the sweetest little thing.''

The Boyers stay in contact with their former foster children, who hail from as far away as Russia and South America. But they still grieve for one little boy who never made it back home.

Julio, a Guatemalan boy with a deformed heart, was staying with the Boyers in 1996 while he received treatment at a Los Angeles hospital. Shortly before his second birthday, he died.

``He died in our arms,'' Boyer said. ``That was very hard. But helping these children is really special. When I take (Danna) home, I think it will be something I won't forget because I think to myself, I helped save this child.''

Amy Raisin Darvish, (661) 257-5254

amy.raisin(at)dailynews.com

CAPTION(S):

2 photos

Photo:

(1 -- color in SAC edition only) Chris Boyer plays with 8-month-old Danna Christine Ramon, who was brought to the United States for life-saving heart surgery. Boyer has been a foster mother for the baby and will return her home to Ecuador on May 7.

(2 -- ran in SAC edition only) (When Danna Christine Ramon arrived from Ecuador at 3 months old, she was given only a 10 percent to 20 percent chance of survival. But after heart surgery, she's put on weight and is healthy enough to go back home next week, doctors say.)

David Crane/Staff Photographer
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Apr 30, 2005
Words:796
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