Kadner: Baby’s miracle surgery at suburban hospital becomes storyline on TV’s Grey’s Anatomy
By Phil Kadner email@example.com April 23, 2013 9:01PM
Ian McDonagh, in September, just before he turned 9. | Supplied photo
Updated: May 25, 2013 6:43AM
A mother remembers the day that doctors told her they’d have to insert a searing hot wire through her newborn baby’s navel, thread it through an artery and put a hole in his heart.
“I said, ‘Sure. Do it!’ ” recalled Nanette McDonagh.
Pregnant at the time, McDonagh had an ultrasound at her local hospital in Woodstock, was sent to Rockford because an abnormality was detected and then was referred to one of the top children’s hospitals in the world in Boston.
But she ended up at Advocate Children’s Hospital in Oak Lawn, which is how Ian McDonagh, 9 years old now, became known as the “miracle baby.”
His story and the first-of-its kind procedure at the time inspired a storyline on the ABC-TV show, “Grey’s Anatomy,” that will be shown Thursday night.
“The (people with the TV show) never spoke with me, but the one thing I hope they will do is mention Dr. Alexander Javois (the doctor who performed Ian’s surgery),” McDonagh said. “Just say something like, ‘We’ve heard Dr. Javois at (then Christ Medical Center) has done this procedure successfully.’ ”
During ultrasound tests while Ian was in his mother’s womb, doctors discovered that he had hypoplastic left heart syndrome, a very rare condition. It’s a deformity of the left ventricle of the heart, which produces oxygenated blood.
It was then discovered that Ian also had an intact atrial septum, meaning that a hole that allows blood to flow from the left to right ventricles did not exist.
In other words, oxygenated blood would not be able to reach the baby’s body.
Typically at the time, babies with this rare combination of conditions could be expected to live from a few days to a few weeks.
“Basically, the doctors at Christ said your baby has this one thing that is bad and he has this other thing that’s really bad, and no one has figured out a way to do anything, but we’re going to figure it out,” McDonagh said.
When they finally told her what the procedure would involve, threading a hot wire through her baby’s navel, did McDonagh panic?
“No,” she said. “Because at that point, what are the options? You don’t have any.”
While in the hospital waiting to give birth, McDonagh even watched an episode of another medical show, “ER” where a baby with the same problems was born and died.
“It didn’t bother me,” she said. “I watched the whole episode, and I just thought, well, they didn’t use the procedure I am going to have.”
The problem was that the few previous attempts at the procedure at other hospitals had taken many hours to complete, and the children later died.
“In looking at those other cases,” said Javois, a pediatric intervention cardiologist, “it seemed to me the key factor was the time element, and it had just taken too long to perform the operation after the baby’s birth.”
McDonagh was going to have a different experience.
“I was told that they were going to have me deliver the baby in the (heart) catheter lab because the baby wouldn’t be likely to survive the elevator trip down from the maternity ward,” McDonagh recalled.
That trip would have been from the second-floor labor and delivery area to the first-floor catheter lab.
“You’re like ‘Wow!’ my baby’s going to die if he spends a few minutes in an elevator,” McDonagh said. “That drives home just how little time they have.”
In fact, time was so essential that Javois told McDonagh she wouldn’t be allowed to kiss her baby after birth.
“He kept saying there wasn’t time, there wasn’t time, and I kept telling him I wanted to kiss my baby before they took him for the surgery,” she said.
“On the day of the surgery, the doctor said I could kiss my baby and that’s what happened. I kissed him in one part of the cath lab where he was born, and they took him away to another area of the cath lab for the procedure.”
Javois said that in addition to the time element, one of his concerns about letting McDonagh see her child was that he feared the newborn “would look really bad. Like death. Very gray. Because it would have been deprived of oxygen.”
A team of 38 doctors, nurses and technicians was waiting in the catheter lab to begin the operation.
“One thing you worry about is everyone talking at once, so we designated one person to sort of be the commander, and when that person spoke everyone else would be quiet,” Javois said.
Born Nov. 20, 2003, Ian McDonagh today is described as a typically curious, energetic boy, although a little small for his age.
“They told us he might not be able to play all the sports, but really who cares about sports,” said McDonagh, who lives in McHenry, “He’s alive.
“The one question we did have was whether he could play golf because his dad is a superintendent at a golf course and he loves golf. Dr. Javois said golf would be fine, so we’re pretty happy.”
Javois and his team performed the surgery, which previously had taken as long as 10 hours, in 50 minutes in 2003.
“We felt that speed was essential to the success of the surgery,” the doctor explained.
Today, although the surgery remains quite rare, the team at Christ can complete the operation in about 22 minutes.
Javois, who talked extensively with people connected with “Grey’s Anatomy,” said they learned about Ian through a magazine article.
“They called several times asking about technical details, the names of instruments and things like that. I was impressed,” he said.
McDonagh remains impressed with Javois, who continues to see Ian as a patient.
Javois said he knows who should really get the credit.
“It all belongs to Ian,” he said. “He fought for his life every step of the way.”
Ian was allowed to go home on Dec. 23, 2003. A Christmas gift his parents call the “most precious and priceless ever.”