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Advocate Children's Hospital 'Miracle' Baby Inspires Grey's Anatomy; Infant Survives with Only Minutes to Spare

Oak Lawn, Ill. – To anyone who meets Ian McDonagh, he seems the typical 9-year-old boy – curious, learning, growing, developing, even rambunctious! 

But, what’s not so typical is the dramatic way in which Ian entered the world in November 2003 at Advocate Children’s Hospital—Oak Lawn. It is the unusual -- in fact, “miraculous” -- start to his life that has inspired one of the storylines in an episode of ABC Television’s Grey’s Anatomy.  That episode is scheduled to air April 25.

Ian battled overwhelming obstacles to become one of the first infants in North America to survive a unique, minimally invasive procedure to correct two extremely rare heart defects.  Ian’s mother, Nannette McDonagh, gave birth in a heart catheterization laboratory, so that teams of physicians, nurses and technicians could work immediately on reversing a heart condition that could have resulted in Ian’s death in a matter of minutes.

Even though that procedure was done almost 10 years ago, few like it have been performed again since that time, wrote Alexander Javois MD, a pediatric interventional cardiologist at Advocate Children’s Hospital—Oak Lawn, as he communicated with a medical researcher for Grey’s Anatomy, during the program’s fact-finding process.  Javois was a leader for the team of cardiologists that successfully performed the procedure.

Ian was born with a rare combination of congenital heart disorders – hypoplastic left heart syndrome (HLHS) and an intact atrial septum. Infants with HLHS can usually survive for a few days to a few weeks after birth without surgery because a hole in the heart wall creates blood flow within the heart, allowing the red, oxygenated blood to get out to the rest of the body.  In Ian’s case, however, the hole in the atrial septum was missing, and the oxygen-carrying blood was sealed off and unable to get to the body.  Essentially, Ian had 0 percent chance of survival, Dr. Javois said at the time of Ian’s birth.

Dr. Javois and his team had to work fast to prevent any life-threatening damage to Ian’s brain, lungs and heart.  They performed an atrial septostomy, a procedure in which a searing wire was fed through the infant’s umbilical cord vein leading to his heart and used to burn a hole in the wall between the heart’s upper two chambers.  The hole created an escape hatch through which the red blood could flow from the heart to the rest of the baby’s body.  At the time, the handful of previous attempts at other institutions in the country to perform a similar procedure had taken several hours to complete.  The Dr. Javois team performed it successfully in less than an hour.

A pediatric cardiologist at Children’s Hospital in Boston later praised the efforts of the Advocate Children’s Hospital physicians, nurses and other staff involved in the lifesaving work, saying that “only a few centers in the U.S.” could have taken on “this type of technically challenging procedure.”

“This was truly a miraculous outcome,” said Dr. Javois when baby Ian was being discharged from the hospital.  “We were amazed and pleased with how rapidly the baby responded to treatments.  With so many odds working against him, little Ian never gave up.  He is definitely a fighter.”

Several weeks after this initial procedure, baby Ian underwent the first of several surgeries to correct his HLHS.  Internationally-noted pediatric heart surgeon, Michel Ilbawi MD, led the surgical team at Advocate Children’s Hospital—Oak Lawn.

Baby Ian was allowed to go home on Dec. 23, 2003 – a Christmas gift that his parents, Patrick and Nannette, called the “most precious and priceless ever.”

Grey’s Anatomy staff members recently learned about the Ian “miracle” when searching the Internet and finding an old magazine account of the baby Ian “miracle.”

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About Advocate Children’s Hospital
As part of Advocate Health Care, Advocate Children’s Hospital is the largest network provider of pediatric services in Illinois and among the top 10 in the nation. The two main campuses are located in the Chicago metropolitan region – Oak Lawn in the southwest and Park Ridge in the northwest, with additional services accessible at other Advocate hospitals throughout the state.  Advocate Children’s Hospital serves as a major referral center for infants and children.  Through a special, wholistic approach, Advocate Children’s Hospital combines some of the country’s most respected medical talent with exceptional and compassionate care.  In fact, the children’s hospital has been recognized by U.S. News & World Report as one of the nation’s leaders in pediatric cardiology and neonatology, and numerous physicians have been cited as being among the “Top Doctors” regionally and nationally in their respective fields.  Advocate Children’s Hospital is staffed by more than 400 pediatricians and 230 pediatric subspecialists who offer a wide range of services for children.


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