Cedar Falls, Iowa
Iowa vs. Kent State, Sept. 18, 2021

Even before Galilea Gonzalez was born, her parents knew she faced potentially life-threatening health issues.

“One of the (prenatal) tests came back as something was going on,” Galilea’s mother, Selene Leon, recalls.

“It was a high likelihood that something was wrong, and we didn't know what that was going to be,” Galilea’s father, Pedro Gonzalez, adds. “So, we talked and, in essence, took our chances, and said we're going to continue with the pregnancy."

The couple, now living in Cedar Falls, was referred to University of Iowa Stead Family Children’s Hospital, where Galilea was diagnosed in utero with transposition of the great arteries, in which the two main arteries leaving the heart are reversed.

It was like all the stars aligned, because all the doctors we had talked to and all the doctors that needed to be there, were there.

Pedro Gonzalez

They hoped their daughter would be born in Iowa City, but circumstances changed those plans.

With two weeks left in her pregnancy, Selene underwent a regular stress test.

“After almost 15 minutes into the test, our baby’s heart rate started dropping and the OB came to us and told us that our daughter had to be delivered ASAP,” Pedro recalls. “We were not prepared at that point. We had always envisioned ourselves at UI for this event. We were in Waterloo and had two more weeks to go in the pregnancy.”

“We were hoping to have a vaginal delivery,” Selene adds. “But (the doctor) was like, ‘I don't think she's going to make it through that. She needs to come out through a C-section, and she needs to come out now.’ It was a very scary time."

Galilea was airlifted to Iowa City after the C-section, while a friend drove Pedro from Waterloo, “my longest drive ever,” he says, and Selene recovered for a few hours before following by ambulance.

“It was like all the stars aligned, because all the doctors we had talked to and all the doctors that needed to be there, were there,” Pedro remembers upon arriving at Stead Family Children’s Hospital. “So, it was very incredible.”

Galilea underwent an atrial septostomy to keep an opening between the upper two chambers of her heart before planned corrective surgery one week later, when she would be stronger to survive the procedure.

“We kept getting updates every couple of hours,” Pedro recalls of the lengthy corrective surgery, which ultimately was successful. “We could not have chosen a better team. Everyone, I mean everyone, nurses, doctors, staff, clerical, were highly committed to having the best possible outcome.”

Though nervous about taking their daughter home after such a major surgery, Galilea was discharged after 21 days.

Galilea Gonzalez as an infant

“My wife and I were so scared to be alone without the great support of the team that we did not want to leave UI,” Pedro recalls. Still, they made the transition and Galilea continued to grow.

When she was still a toddler, the family moved to Mexico after Pedro received a job offer, which he initially declined twice, as it would mean leaving her health care team in Iowa.

At one point in Mexico, Galilea was taken to see a team of doctors after developing chest pains. “They repeated two or three times that, ‘You were just so lucky to be there in that place (in Iowa),’" Pedro remembers. "’They did beautiful work on her heart.’”

After five years in Mexico, the family returned to Iowa, where Galilea started first grade.

Now 10, she would like to be an author and illustrator, enjoys school and leads an active life.

“If you see Galilea now, you would never think that something like this happened to her,” Selene says. “She loves gymnastics. She is always doing cartwheels. She is a very happy, healthy little girl.”

Galilea first day of school photo

Heart problems can affect young children, adolescents, or the baby in the womb. Pediatric cardiologists provide diagnosis and treatment of conditions for all forms of heart disease and congenital heart conditions. Learn more about our pediatric cardiology care.

Twelve current and former University of Iowa Stead Family Children’s Hospital patients are ready for the spotlight as the Kid Captain program returns for the 2021 Iowa Hawkeye football season. Learn more about this partnership with the Iowa Hawkeyes football team honoring pediatric patients and to celebrate their inspirational stories.