Her Baby Girl’s Heart Is With Her At Riley

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Magda Repollet is unit secretary of the cardiovascular intensive care unit at Riley. It’s the perfect place for Repollet, whose daughter was born with a rare congenital heart condition.

Magda Repollet took home a healthy, pink, baby girl from the hospital 27 years ago.

She returned devastated.

Baby Magdelisse wouldn’t stop crying. She cried and cried, inconsolable crying. She vomited, a lot. And then, that healthy pink baby turned blue.

Repollet remembers the feeling of disbelief when doctors told her.

“I was in denial,” Repollet says. “I couldn’t accept that she was born with a heart defect.”

Her daughter, Magdelisse Velazquez, had a rare congenital heart condition called Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome that affected her heart's electrical system. She also had ventricular septal defect, a hole in the wall separating the two lower chambers of the heart.

Repollet knows all the emotions, the fears and the worry, the scary moments of having a baby with a heart condition. 

So, where she works each day at Riley Hospital for Children at IU Health could not be more fitting. Repollet is the unit secretary of the cardiovascular intensive care unit. A phlebotomist for most of her life, she landed the job two years ago.

“It was like God sent,” Repollet says.

She is there as families come into the unit, shocked and in denial just like she was 27 years ago. She understands.

“The things you see and the families you meet, that is precious to me,” says Repollet. “Parents and patients are my prerogative. Sometimes you get really attached to them.”

Each day, Repollet is thankful that her daughter’s story has a happy ending. In fact, Magdelisse is now a doctor herself.

But, it was a journey. Magdelisse had heart surgeries at ages 1, 4 and 12. Repollet felt blessed each time her baby girl recovered. Magdelisse was a smart, feisty child – a girl who was going places.

By 13 years old, Magdelisse had graduated high school. At 14, she went to college and then onto medical school. Today, Magdelisse is a research doctor in cardiology in Puerto Rico.

But she is with her mom at Riley each and every day.

“Our patients are so delicate when it comes to their health,” Repollet says. “I know that. My babies have had open heart surgeries. They are very ill.”

Each morning, Repollet arrives early to her unit so she can walk by each room and see those babies and wish for their good health.

She also keeps an ear out during the day for their needs. One day, she heard a baby boy crying whose parents weren’t there. Repollet went into the room and sang to him.

Born and raised in New York City, in Brooklyn, Repollet grew up singing. She loved classical music, romantic music. She also loved to paint and draw. Art and music were her passion.

But after graduating high school, Repollet had something else she needed to do. At 18, Repollet went with her aging grandparents, who had lived more than four decades in New York, to Puerto Rico. She went to take care of them.

Repollet started college and got a job in a hospital as a phlebotomist. She had Magdelisse and then her son, Elvis O’Neal, now 22. 

She stayed in Puerto Rico until 2010, when she moved to Miami, Fla., working there as a phlebotomist. In 2013, she came to Indiana to care for her mother, who was having health problems.  

The next two years, she had trouble finding jobs that were fulfilling.

“I was determined I was going to get a good, good job,” Repollet says.

“I remember the exact day. It was April 3, 2015 and I said, ‘You know what? I’m going to give it a chance.”

She applied to IU Health. Four days later, she received a call. There was a position open for unit secretary of the cardiovascular intensive care unit.

"Are you interested?" the person on the other end of the line asked Repollet. “Of course, I’m interested,” she replied. The job could not have been more perfect.

To help families in her unit even more, Repollet became certified in December to be an interpreter. Doctors and nurses call on her often for Spanish-speaking families.

She goes above and beyond in other ways too, big and small.

Recently, Repollet was nominated for an award at Riley for finding creative ways to promote hand washing, a crucial component to keeping babies healthy.

When a new patient comes to the unit, a personalized sign is now hung in front of their room: “Please, always clean your hands before touching me! Thanks for caring, (patient’s name)”

Repollet also puts together little bags to give families. In it is a small bottle of hand sanitizer and Life Saver candies. It reads: “Clean Hands Are A Lifesaver.”

Each day, Repollet says, she is grateful. To have this job and her son and to have her husband, Andres Jimenez, who found her on Facebook years after they first dated in high school.

And most of all, she is thankful to have her daughter thriving and healthy, her little girl whose heart is with her each and every day.

-- By Dana Benbow, Senior Journalist at IU Health.
   Reach Benbow via email dbenbow@iuhealth.org or on Twitter @danabenbow.

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