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NEW YORK (CBSMiami) – Each year, about 40-thousand children are born with heart defects, sometimes needing surgeries and other procedures for the rest of their lives. But each year, a special group gets together around Valentine’s Day to celebrate being alive.

Two-year-old Riley Ortiz doesn’t miss a beat when the music is on. She and her mother are celebrating a victory – Riley’s beating heart that’s required a lot of extra love.

“In the beginning, it was difficult. It was very difficult,” said Riley’s mother Madeline Ortiz.

Riley was born with a rare and serious congenital heart defect. Doctors at Mount Sinai Hospital performed open heart surgery when she was just four months old.

“I didn’t know if my daughter was going to be well. I didn’t know what the future was going to hold for her,” said Ortiz.

Riley is one of the thousands of children whose hearts have been mended by the pediatric cardiologists at Mt Sinai. Each Valentine’s Day the hospital, along with volunteers from Project Sunshine, treat them to a party.

The celebration is in its 30th year and many of the families come back year after year just to say thank you.

“It’s really the ultimate reward,” said Dr. Ira Parness, Chief of Pediatric Cardiology at Mount Sinai.

In his 25 years at the hospital, Parness has witnessed heartbreak, but more often success.

“And when they come out the other end. It’s family and I have patients who tell me they love me,” said Parness.

Patients like Riley who made a full recovery.

“I’m celebrating life, love, hearts and I’m going to continue to come until she’s a grown-up, and she can give back,” said Ortiz.

The Centers for Disease Control reports about 25 percent of babies with congenital heart defects will need surgery or other procedures in the first year of life.


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