May Gander watched daughter Mellorrie give her dad, Rudy, a hug yesterday after getting her heart checked by Dr. Carlos Moreno, a cardiac surgeon at Kapiolani Medical Center. Mellorrie had her first open heart surgery in 1996 at the age of 2.

Surgery fixes hole
in girl’s heart

Mellorrie Gander has a fourth procedure,
which doctors hope will be her last

Story reunites aunt and old flame

A 9-year-old Kaneohe girl is leading a normal, active life after undergoing a fourth surgical procedure to repair a congenital heart defect.

Dr. Carlos Moreno said he hopes the April 16 surgery will be the last for Mellorrie Gander for 15 to 20 years.

It may even last a lifetime, depending on the behavior of a human valve installed in her heart, said Moreno, head of the Pediatric Cardiac Surgery Program at Kapiolani Medical Center for Women & Children.

Mellorrie, one of two children of Rudy and May Gander, was born Feb. 9, 1994, with a condition called tetralogy of fallot. This is a hole in the wall separating the sides of her heart, combined with narrowing of the path from the heart's right side to the lungs.

Blood was going through the hole instead of to her lungs, making it hard for her to breathe as a baby and causing her to turn purple. Her parents had to blow in her face to increase her oxygen.

While Moreno checked on his patient at Kapiolani yesterday, Rudy Gander recalled the first emergency with Mellorrie.

The family, including Ryson, now 12, was at a funeral when 2-month-old Mellorrie stopped breathing, Gander said. "We were frantic. I was speeding on the freeway looking for a police officer to pull me over, and no one was around. I was driving like a maniac."

The Ganders took the baby to Dr. Edgar Ho, the family's heart specialist at Straub Clinic & Hospital, and he stabilized her.

She was rushed by ambulance to Kapiolani, where Moreno created an emergency shunt to get more blood to her lungs from her heart.

The family waited until Mellorrie was 2 years old for open heart surgery in May 1996, but the doctors encountered a rare anomaly, a stray artery, that complicated her condition.

Performing the surgery were Drs. Moreno and John Lamberti, then pediatric cardiac surgeon at San Diego Children's Hospital, and Alan Britten, a pediatric anesthesiologist.

They put a new shunt on the other side of the child's heart to improve blood flow, pending a third operation to repair her heart defect. That was done by Lamberti in May 1997 in San Diego.

The Ganders noticed a few months ago that Mellorrie was having bad mood swings and getting tired a lot. "She was really moody and angry at all of us for no reason," her dad said. "She was giving us headaches," he said with a laugh and a hug for his daughter.

Since the recent surgery, she is more active and stays up later, he said.

The parents were shocked a few months ago when told Mellorrie needed to have an adult-size shunt to improve blood flow to her lungs.

They didn't expect that for a few more years, but "she was growing more than anticipated," Gander said. "There was some calcium buildup around the conduit. Dr. Ho talked to Dr. Lamberti and Dr. Moreno to do surgery."

Thinking they might have to go to the mainland as before, May Gander said her first question was, "Where?"

She said they would go anywhere that Lamberti practices, and he is now at Stanford University. But he works with the Kapiolani team about five times a year, and he joined Moreno last month for Mellorrie's surgery.

Moreno said he reserves more complicated cases until Lamberti's arrival, and they do five to seven surgeries in the week that he is here.

He also hopes to have a mainland pediatric interventional cardiologist visit Kapiolani three times a year, starting in November. This would allow the cardiac team to do nonsurgical interventional procedures, going through the groin without opening the chest, which can only be done now on the mainland, Moreno said.

He noted many improvements for pediatric cardiac surgery in instrumentation, processing of human valves and heart-lung machines.

"Even complex conditions that couldn't be fixed in the past are being fixed now with surgical and interventional techniques," Moreno said.

Mellorrie's case was one of those. After discovering her abnormality in 1996, Lamberti said he had only seen such anatomy about twice before.

Slim, with long brown hair, the shy third-grader at Windward Nazarene Academy says she feels "OK."

She lost about seven pounds right after the surgery, her mother said, explaining she could not eat because of the medicine for pain, but "now she's back to more than normal."

Her favorite foods: "ice cream and tomatoes."


Girl’s story reunites
aunt and old flame

A Star-Bulletin story in 1996 about Mellorrie Gander's heart defect brought a couple together after a separation of 30 years and thousands of miles.

Mellorrie's parents, Rudy and May Gander, said Rudy's sister, Liberata Orallo, was in the U.S. Navy and stationed in Italy about 30 years ago. There she met Mario Toni, then in the Italian navy.

But they became separated and Toni began looking for her, sending letters that were returned, the Ganders said.

With the computer age, he began searching for her on the Internet and saw the Star-Bulletin story about Mellorrie. It mentioned Liberata Orallo, "Auntie Lib," who was at the hospital with the family for the child's surgery.

Toni, who retired from the Italian navy as an admiral, wrote to Orallo, saying, "I hope you're the Libby I am looking for," the Ganders said. Then he came here to find her.

They plan to be married in Rome this fall.


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