“I Just Called an Ambulance to Take Your Baby to Lurie Children’s”

January 19, 2016

When 10-day-old Luca Federighi arrived at Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children's Hospital of Chicago by ambulance, his organs were starting to shut down. Fortunately, an entire team of doctors and nurses from the hospital’s Heart Center was waiting for him to provide specialized care.

Just hours before Luca's parents, Jessica and Dante, had brought him to see his pediatrician, Daphne Hirsh, MD. The Federighis had made the appointment because Luca had suddenly stopped breast feeding, was vomiting and appeared lethargic. His skin also had a blue tint, particularly his legs and feet.

"While she was examining Luca, Dr. Hirsh said she wasn't getting a good pulse and that he was laboring to breathe," says Jessica. "We were in shock. I had a normal pregnancy, and when he was born there were no signs of any problems. Then she said, 'I don't want to freak you out, but I just called an ambulance to take your baby to Lurie Children's.’"

Jessica rode in the ambulance with Luca, while Dante followed it to Lurie Childen's. Upon arrival, Luca was immediately intubated to help him breathe. After their baby underwent diagnostic tests, cardiologist Nguyenvu Nguyen, MD, told Jessica and Dante that Luca had a heart defect called coarctation of the aorta, and would need surgery.

"He said that there was a critically narrowed section in Luca's aorta that was preventing blood flow to the lower half of his body," says Jessica. "He also told us that we were very lucky that Luca was admitted that day, or we might not be having this conversation at all."

Lurie Children's is well-positioned to treat children with congenital heart defects. With a team of 39 pediatric cardiologists and three cardiovascular-thoracic surgeons, the hospital's Heart Center team performs an average of 450 surgeries each year, with a survival rate of more than 98 percent — ranking it among the nation's top pediatric medical centers. 

Five days after he was admitted, Luca underwent surgery performed by Carl Backer, MD, Head of the Division of Cardiovascular-Thoracic Surgery, and the A.C. Buehler Professor of Surgery. He is also the author of a chapter on coarctation of the aorta in an internationally-known medical textbook. Dr. Backer and his team removed the narrowed section of Luca's aorta that was obstructing the flow of blood and reconstructed the aorta. After recovering from the surgery for five days, Luca went home.

Initially, Luca required frequent outpatient follow-up visits with the cardiology team, which tapered off as time went by. Because he had been immobilized so early in his development, Luca also needed months of physical therapy to strengthen his core and back muscles.

Now age 4, Luca is a healthy little boy. He has annual follow-ups with staff cardiologist Peter Koenig, MD, and has no physical restrictions.

"Luca is kind and sweet, but he's also spunky," says his mom. "He has a very strong personality, which may be a byproduct of his having to fight for survival as a newborn."

The Federighis feel strongly about supporting Lurie Children's.

"We give back to Lurie Children's because the hospital saved Luca's life," says Jessica. "Not only are the doctors and nurses experts in their specialties, but the staff also cares for the families. We're very fortunate to live in a city with a hospital where whatever needs to be done to help a sick child can and will be done."

This article was originally published in the February 2016 issue of Heroes Update.