Stephanie Cortijo of Puerto Rico was born at 23 weeks’ gestation due to complications in her mother’s pregnancy. Considered a “micro preemie,” her lungs were so underdeveloped she underwent a tracheostomy and placed on a ventilator to help her breathe. As several weeks passed, Stephanie developed chronic lung disease from the ventilator and bilateral vocal cord paralysis, which for many patients means losing the ability to speak. Ivelisse Cortijo, Stephanie’s mother, was told her baby would probably not survive past her first birthday.
But Cortijo would not give up so quickly. Seeking more care options for her daughter, she traveled to Miami to seek the care of the Division of Pulmonology at Nicklaus Children’s Hospital. Dr. Maria Franco, pediatric pulmonologist and Director of the Division, created an individualized care plan for Stephanie, specific to her needs which included respiratory treatments, therapy and medications that could help her lungs grow and heal at a steady pace.
Today, Stephanie has beat all the odds that were working against her. She is a strong and rambunctious 11-year-old girl with a love for the arts and entertainment.
She celebrated an important milestone in her recovery when she recently underwent surgery to reverse the tracheotomy. Thanks to several years of speech therapy, Stephanie is also able to speak using the sound in her throat, not an easy feat but one that she has perfected.
Dr. Franco says the Cortijo family’s determination and sheer will to not take no for an answer is what helped Stephanie reach a remarkable recovery.
“I honestly believe she is doing as well as she is, not only because of the treatment provided to her, but also thanks to the determination of her parents to go above and beyond for Stephanie.”
“Although there have been many ups and downs, I am grateful for being where we are today. Stephanie is our pride and joy and we are so grateful to her doctors and nurses for the opportunity she has been given to live her life to her fullest potential,” said Cortijo.