Open Accessibility Menu

Dr. Mehta persists in finding cause of baby’s ill health

  • Patient: Veronica Lopez
  • Date Submitted: Mar 10, 2023

“ "He was calling to check on him, making sure this worked or that worked. I just never felt like I couldn’t tell him something.””

Veronica Lopez calls her baby boy Emiliano her “Heart Warrior.” 

But without the care and persistence of Lompoc Health’s Dr. Abhishek Mehta, it’s unlikely Emiliano would be readying to dress up as a leprechaun and celebrate his 1st birthday on March 17th. 

Emiliano was born at LVMC in 2022 and he appeared healthy at birth. Fairly soon afterward, however, Dr. Mehta was not satisfied with Emiiano’s bilirubin levels. Bilarubin is a pigment made during the breakdown of red blood cells, and higher than usual levels may be indicative of liver or bile duct problems. Within a few days of birth, Emiliano was readmitted, and underwent phototherapy in the hospital’s Labor and Delivery department for several days.  

The infant began thriving but contracted the rhinovirus at just a few months old. Veronica took the baby to see Dr. Mehta at North H Center.  

Veronica, the mother of three other children, ages 11, 8 and 4, just felt something wasn’t right with the infant. Emiliano’s breathing was too rapid and was noticeable to the entire family. Dr. Mehta referred the mother to an Ear, Nose and Throat specialist, concerned the baby might have laryngomalacia, or a birth defect in the larynx. Emiliano’s symptoms – fast breathing and excessive sweating – seemed to mimic those of laryngomalacia. The baby was also losing weight, a concern to Dr. Mehta. 

“We were seeing Dr. Mehta like 10 times,” after the baby was born, Veronica said. “It became frequent and weekly.” 

Dr. Mehta also detected a slight heart murmur in the little boy’s chest. By early July, Veronica was taking the baby to the pediatrician repeatedly – the infant was still breathing rapidly and sweating so excessively that his onsie would be soaked. 

“He was not dismissing my concerns,” Veronica said of Dr. Mehta. “I didn’t stop because I knew something wasn’t right. And Dr. Mehta didn’t either. He continued to push forward. He was calling to check on him, making sure this worked or that worked. I just never felt like I couldn’t tell him something.” 

One afternoon, her husband Miguel felt a budge on the left side of Emiliano’s chest. That, coupled with the heart murmur and the baby losing weight led Dr. Mehta to immediately schedule a greater level of testing, including an echocardiogram.  

That test provided another diagnosis: the baby appeared to have cardiomyopathy. 

“The pediatric cardiologist we saw in Santa Barbara said Emiliano’s left ventricle of his heart was not getting the oxygen it needed and we would not be going home; he could need to immediately flown out,” for more advanced care, she recalled. 

Emiliano was airlifted to UCLA Medical Center, while his parents drove south. When they arrived, they learned Emiliano had ALCAPA, or Anomalous Left Coronary Artery from the Pulmonary Artery, a congenital heart defect in which the left coronary artery arises abnormally from the pulmonary artery. But best of all, the defect could be fixed. 

“We walked in there thinking the worst and then hope came to our lives,” Veronica said. “They said it’s reparable and he can recover. I didn't know how rare of a heart defect it was until I found out that only 1 in 300,000 babies are born with ALCAPA. 

Emiliano underwent cardiac surgery at UCLA and was an inpatient at the hospital for four weeks. 

“The UCLA doctors said they were impressed our pediatrician caught this when he did,” Veronica said. “This could have been fatal. Most children with this kind of condition don’t live a year because it goes mistreated and misdiagnosed.” 

Emiliano is projected to have a long and healthy life. 

“I was told that most children who have the surgery live a normal life,” Veronica said. “The artery they repaired is now flowing beautifully.” 

As he nears his first birthday, Emiliano is doing well. His heart function is almost normal and he’s seen a pediatric cardiologist every three months. His next appointment is in April. He will be monitored for years to come, to ensure he continues to remain healthy. 

“Even though Dr. Mehta didn’t do the surgery, he IS the one who saved Emiliano’s life,” Veronica says. “So, I’m always going to be grateful for him. He didn’t give up and in turn, he didn’t let me give up either. I knew something wasn’t right. Something felt off. Lompoc Health is very, very lucky to have Dr. Mehta on their team. He is thorough and compassionate. He’s dedicated. He definitely makes you feel like he’s there for you. I don’t want anyone to dismiss my concerns. He was just someone who really investigated and took the time. We are forever grateful to Dr. Mehta for being the caring doctor that he is for all of his patients.”