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Physicians, nurses and administrators from Doctors Hospital at Renaissance and the University Transplant Center in San Antonio are pictured with 11-year-old Zoey Blaylock at the Edinburg Conference Center at Renaissance.

EDINBURG, RGV – Doctors Hospital at Renaissance announced a new program for pediatric liver transplants in partnership with the University Transplant Center of San Antonio.

According to a press release from Doctors Hospital Renaissance (DHR), children and families in the Rio Grande Valley who are preparing for a liver transplant are evaluated by a local pediatric intensivist or pediatric gastroenterologist. Pediatric intensivists are physicians who manage patients of all ages traumatic injuries, life threatening conditions or complex surgeries. Patients are then referred to Dr. Francisco Cigarroa, surgical director of the pediatric liver transplant program at the University Transplant Center of San Antonio, who will make visits to the RGV every two or three months.

Prior to the child receiving his or her transplant, all medical care will take place at DHR. While DHR continues to develop its liver transplant program, all patients scheduled for the procedure will take place at the University Hospital in San Antonio. Following the transplant, recovery and other medical care will resume at DHR.

This will allow children and families of the Valley to avoid the three or more hours of travel to a city further north.

“This is really one of those vibrant areas of the United States of America,” Cigarroa, the Laredo native said. “And so the story begins, with actually the parents of Dr. [Carlos] Cardenas and myself. So there are many individuals before us who had a dream that … citizens deserve a great education from kindergarten through high school. They deserve a great higher education from our community colleges [and] universities. And they deserve, like any individual across this great country, the very best healthcare.”

Cigarroa sacrificed his dream of becoming an instructor at Harvard Medical School to residents and other medical students. However, he said he has the deepest gratitude for allowing another dream of his to unfold–to provide the expertise in pediatric liver transplant patients to a region he loves–the Texas-Mexico border region.

“There are many children whose parents are under the same circumstances for travel,” Cigarroa said. “Long distances become so stressful for a family that unfortunately families sometimes can’t adapt to that and … fall apart simply because of the [inability] to provide access to care to those children in the communities that they grew up in, in the communities where parents are working in, where parents can’t leave their employment for socioeconomic reasons.”

Cigarroa said this step in providing pediatric liver transplant is the beginning of a vision for really providing comprehensive transplant healthcare at DHR. A patient testimony, Zoey Blaylock, had a liver transplant Sept. 29, 2010 when she was five years old. Her father, John Blaylock said they no longer have to make the four-and-a-half-hour drive for simple procedures such as drawing blood.

“We used to drive to San Antonio because that’s where our doctors were,” John Blaylock said. “The best doctors then were there [and] now we come here because the doctors that were there are now here. … It sure makes our life a lot easier. We don’t have to drive four and a half hours just to get a blood draw so we can have her liver tested to see if it’s still functioning normally.”

Cardenas, the chief administrative officer and chairman of the board at DHR, said DHR is committed to developing a healthier community. DHR is promoting the creation of a healthcare district in Hidalgo County, bringing subspecialists down to the RGV and interviewing people to participate in research to find solutions for problems that affect the Valley.

“This is a dream that has gone back a couple of generations,” Cardenas said. “What we see today is to be able to be in a position to deliver top tier care in a community that many people have discounted and legislators and policymakers have forgotten over and over again.”

Editor’s Note: Reporter Steve Taylor contributed to this story from Edinburg and took the pictures in the slideshow that accompanies this story.