There will be no shortage of towering figures among the dozens of and past and present Chicago sports stars on Thursday, November 8, at the 4th Annual Champions for Children's fundraiser at the Hilton Chicago to benefit Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children's Hospital of Chicago. There will also be a tiny blonde-haired girl in attendance -- 4-year-old Bailey Sechowski, one of several Lurie Children's Patient Champions on hand to underscore that heroes come in all sizes.
"When we look at photos of Bailey when she was just a few days old, having just undergone heart surgery and hooked up to all these machines and tubes, it's hard to believe just how far she’s come," says Bailey's mom, Megan. "Now she's in gymnastics and soccer and just loves life. She truly seizes the day every day."
Before she was born, Bailey was diagnosed with complete fetal heart block, resulting in a dangerously slow heart rate. Within minutes of birth she was rushed by ambulance from Prentice Women's Hospital to Lurie Children's former facility, Children's Memorial Hospital. "I was only able to see her for what felt like a minute before she needed to be transported," says Megan. "It was very hard to be separated, but we knew Bailey was in the best hands there."
Today, Lurie Children's and the adjacent Prentice are connected by the Fifield Family Bridge, a pedestrian walkway that enables hospitalized mothers of sick newborns to be close to their babies.
Two days later, Bailey underwent surgery to have a pacemaker implanted to regulate her heart rhythm. She then spent three months in the hospital's Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, where she was also treated for a lung disorder. She returned to the hospital when she was six months old to have a hole in her heart repaired using a minimally-invasive surgical procedure employing a catheter. When she was a year and a half old, surgeons implanted a new pacemaker. This one, in turn, will need to be replaced when Bailey is a teenager.
Today, Bailey is a happy and healthy pre-schooler who loves princesses and singing into a pretend microphone. She undergoes occupational therapy to improve her fine motor skills, and continues regular follow-ups at Lurie Children's with cardiologist Sabrina Tsao, MD, and endocrinologist Reema Habiby, MD. Small for her age, Bailey recently underwent a "growth spurt," and is now in the tenth percentile in weight for her age.
The Sechowski family truly believes in giving back to the hospital. For four consecutive years, Bailey's dad, Kevin, has run as a member of the Children's Marathon Team, which raised more than $348,000 for the hospital in the 2012 race. "Bailey is very proud that her daddy runs for 'her hospital,'" says Megan. "And Kevin says he'll continue to run every year for the team until he just can't do it anymore. It's really important to him."
The family has also participated in the Aon Step Up for Kids stair climb to the top of the Aon Center (Megan climbed when she was five months pregnant with Bailey's little sister, Riley), and have arranged to also give to the hospital through a bequest in their will. They are excited to participate for the first time in Champions for Children's, where Megan and Kevin will share Bailey's story.
"We're really looking forward to it," says Megan. "Bailey is obsessed with sports -- she’s her father's daughter. She'll love meeting the players and the mascots. And it's so great that these athletes are giving back to the hospital. And, of course, we're happy to do anything we can to help. Throughout it all, we never considered that we could lose Bailey. That's how much faith and trust we had in her doctors. I don't know what we would have done without Lurie Children's. We feel so lucky."