Charlie Bounces Back From Open-Heart Surgery

W​hen Holly and Peter Krug’s otherwise healthy 18-month-old son, Charlie, was diagnosed with a hole in his heart by a pediatric cardiologist, they were devastated. Although he recommended they wait six months to see if the hole closed on its own, the Krugs took a more proactive approach: they decided to seek care for Charlie at Children’s, which has the Chicago region’s largest pediatric Heart Center.

After an initial consulation with cardiologist Dolores Vitullo, MD, at Children's satellite facility at Central DuPage Hospital, Dr. Vitullo referred them to David Wax, MD, Director of the hospital's Interventional Catheterization program. After Charlie underwent an echocardiogram procedure, Dr. Wax gave them even more shocking news: Charlie had several holes in his heart, and would need open heart surgery to repair them. That same day they met with Carl Backer, MD, Head of the Division of Cardiovascular-Thoracic Surgery, who would perform Charlie’s operation.

“Dr. Backer took the time to thoroughly explain the procedure and answer our many questions,” says Holly. “He put our minds at ease and made us feel like Charlie would be in the best hands -- and he was!”
The day of Charlie’s surgery proved to be an emotional one for his parents. “I’ll never forget that moment when we handed our baby over and watched him being wheeled into surgery,” Holly says. “Even though we knew Charlie was at the best place, with the best surgeons, we still had a hard time letting go of him.”
During Charlie’s operation the nurses kept the family updated every hour. Ultimately, Dr. Backer and his team discovered seven holes in Charlie’s heart, which was quite large because it had been working so hard. “We’re very fortunate that Charlie’s condition was discovered and corrected sooner rather than later,” says Holly.
Charlie, now 2, spent a week recovering in the hospital’s Pediatric Intensive Care Unit, where he was treated with great care. Holly says everyone at Children’s, from the medical staff to the maintenance staff, was friendly and helpful throughout their stay.
“The nurses at Children’s are just the best,” she says. “They watched over Charlie and constantly kept their eyes on all of those monitors in his room, just like they were air traffic controllers. He left the hospital giving all the nurses ‘high fives’ and kisses. Also, the volunteers who come around to talk and play with the kids are such wonderful and special people. They always had a fun pillowcase or a new toy for Charlie.”
Today, thanks to the care he received from the heart specialists at Children’s, Charlie is a healthy, busy little boy, and recently transitioned from six-month follow-ups with Dr. Vitullo to yearly visits. He loves “driving” his battery-powered John Deere Gator Ride-On toy vehicle, and has been known to ride it around in circles for hours at a time. Holly says Charlie loves all forms of cars and trucks, and can name even the most unusual farm and construction vehicles.
“Children's is an amazing place with amazing people, and we are determined to keep it close to our hearts,” she says. “We will be forever grateful.”
To show their thanks for the care he received, Charlie’s family asked relatives and friends to donate in support of cardiovascular-thoracic surgery research at Children’s instead of buying Charlie gifts for his second birthday. Learn more about making a tribute gift in honor or in memory of a friend, colleague or loved one.
Story originally appeared in the January 2011 issue of Heroes Update. ​​