Life-saving Cardiac Care Helped Keep Sebastian on the Soccer Field

June 17, 2015

The Cajiao family first started noticing that something about their 13-year-old son, Sebastian, had changed after soccer practice in early August 2013. The family had just returned home from vacation, and it was Sebastian’s first practice back on the field. His dad Carlos noticed that something was different about the way Sebastian was playing that day – he wasn’t showing the usual energy and excitement he normally does. Sebastian soon told Carlos that he was having some difficulty breathing.

Carlos took Sebastian home, and he continued to behave unusually while he played with his friends. Later on, he didn’t have any energy to play with his sister and he kept telling his family how exhausted he was. Carlos told him to go to bed and get some rest, thinking he just needed to sleep it off. Soon after, Sebastian called to Carlos from his room. He was having even more trouble breathing, and he was cold to the touch. Carlos and his wife then took Sebastian to the local hospital for tests.

The doctors quickly discovered that Sebastian’s heart beat was fast at 210 BPM and that his heart was enlarged, and they gave him medication to start regulating his heart rhythm. The Cajiao family was shocked to learn how ill their son was. Heart disease didn’t run in their families, and Sebastian hadn’t shown any symptoms until that day. They’d never expected anything like this to happen to their healthy son. The medication he’d received only worked temporarily, so the doctors decided to transfer Sebastian to Lurie Children’s via helicopter.

As soon as the helicopter landed at Lurie Children’s, Sebastian was brought to the Regenstein Cardiac Care Unit where cardiac intensivist Dr. Conrad Epting assumed his care. His heart muscle was extremely weak, and he had an abnormally rapid heart beat originating from the upper chambers of the heart. Doctors took over his work of breathing with a mechanical breathing machine and gave him medications to support his blood pressure, while Dr. Kendra Ward stayed by his bedside all night adjusting medications to try to slow his heart rate.

On the second day of their stay, Dr. Barbara Deal told the family that Sebastian’s heart could not tolerate the rapid heart rate for much longer and that the team would like to attempt a procedure immediately to eliminate the source of the rapid heart rate. The family was told that his heart was in such a weakened state that he might have a cardiac arrest at any time.

As he was moved onto the table in the electrophysiology laboratory, his heart stopped. He was resuscitated and cardiac surgeon Dr. Hyde Russell placed him on a mechanical heart to maintain his blood pressure so that the procedure could take place.

With the help of Dr. Jeffrey Goldberger, an adult electrophysiologist from Northwestern Memorial Hospital, and Dr. Greg Webster, a pediatric electrophysiologist at Lurie Children’s, the doctors were able to identify and cure the origin of the abnormal heartbeat in his left upper heart chamber. At the end of the procedure, the mechanical heart pump was able to be removed, and Sebastian was transferred back to his room safely.

When Sebastian woke up the next day, the breathing tube was removed, and he had improved enough that he was able to walk. Everyone was shocked. After that, Sebastian continued to get better every day, and he was soon released from the hospital. He was even healthy enough to travel to Barcelona to fulfill his Make a Wish dream, which was to meet Lionel Messi, a famous soccer player.

Today Sebastian is 16 years old and is back on the soccer field, and Carlos and his wife Carmenza couldn’t be more thankful for the team who saved Sebastian’s life. “The doctors, nurses and the rest of the hospital staff all treated us so wonderfully the whole time we were there. We’re so thankful they were able to save Sebastian’s life. If we had been anywhere else, who knows what would have happened.” In Sebastian’s case, it certainly “took a whole village” of doctors and nurses to help him recover.