Walter Sanchez | Laker for a Day


In many ways, Walter looked like any other father chasing his two young daughters around the court before a recent Lakers game. Except Walter's life started out anything but normal.

Walter was born with only one ventricle in his heart, so instead of two ventricles pumping blood – one to the lungs, another to the body – he has just one to the body. Thanks to doctors at UCLA Health, however, Walter was able to undergo a procedure that allows him to lead a relatively normal life.

"The surgery essentially linked his veins up with his pulmonary arteries," says Dr. Jamil Aboulhosn, director of the UCLA Adult Congenital Heart Disease Program.

Walter enjoys spending time with his two charismatic daughters, 7-year-old Samantha and 8-year-old Danielle, who infuse energy and enthusiasm into his daily activities. That was especially evident during their behind-the-scenes tour of Staples Center, where they were treated to dinner in the Chairman's Lounge and had an opportunity to meet and mingle with Lakers co-owner Jeanie Buss before the Valentine's Day game against Sacramento.

"What keeps me going is I have my two daughters," Walter says. "I take care of myself so I can provide for them. As of right now my heart is repaired and, God willing, I won't need a heart transplant."

Dr. Leigh Reardon, director of Transitional Cardiac Care at UCLA, says medical advances developed at UCLA and other research centers now allow people like Walter to recover and enjoy everything that life has to offer – including taking in a Lakers game.

"UCLA was one of the first places in the world to treat adults with congenital heart disease, and we're one of the premier places for adults with congenital heart diseases in the world," Dr. Reardon says. "And because of advances in medicine, we've been able to let people live full and productive lives, have families, exercise and live their dreams."