Roisin Hanna is a typical eight-year-old girl, who loves to read Harry Potter and Junie B. Jones books, likes U2 and Taylor Swift and is learning to play guitar. In the words of her mom, Nicole, "She's a born performer." Her path in life, however, has been anything but typical.
Roisin, who was born in Britain, was diagnosed as an infant with vesicoureteral reflux (VUR), a urologic disorder. Caused by a malfunctioning valve, the condition results in urine backing up from the bladder into the kidneys and can result in permanent kidney damage if left untreated.
When she was 11 weeks old, Roisin developed septic shock as a result of an undiagnosed kidney infection. Doctors advised Nicole and her husband, Brian, to gather their family together at the hospital and prepare to say goodbye to Roisin.
Fortunately, Roisin's doctors discovered the source of the infection, treated it with appropriate antibiotics and placed her on daily low-dose antibiotics to prevent her from developing recurrent urinary tract infections that could result in further kidney damage.
When Roisin was four, her family moved back to Nicole's native Chicago and were referred to the experts in the Division of Urology at Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children's Hospital of Chicago.
The Division is ranked ninth in the nation by U.S.News & World Report and is the largest pediatric urology program in the region. Led by Division Head Earl Y. Cheng, MD, the Founders' Board Chair in Urology, the program treats more than 7,500 children each year, with conditions ranging from simple issues to complex conditions that require surgical reconstruction. Its staff includes national leaders in clinical care and cutting-edge research as well as surgeons trained in using the most advanced technology.
Because most children with VUR outgrow the condition without needing surgical intervention, Roisin's medical team, led by surgeon Edward Gong, MD, initially took a "wait and see" approach while following her closely.
"We never knew when she had a urinary tract infection because they went straight to her kidneys and she didn't experience any symptoms," says Nicole.
As Roisin's kidney damage progressed, and one of the organs began to shrink, it became clear that surgery was her best option.
Lurie Children's is one of only a few pediatric medical centers in the US to offer robot-assisted minimally invasive surgery as an option for correcting urinary reflux. Using the state-of-the-art daVinci Xi® Surgical System, Lurie Children's surgeons have a greater than 90 percent success rate in correcting VUR, with less scarring and quicker healing than open surgery.
"We did our homework on Dr. Gong, and even read some of his research," says Nicole. "He's considered a pioneer in robotic surgery, and it was clear to us that he was the right guy at the right place to perform Ro's surgery."
Roisin's procedure took place last April. Dr. Gong and his surgical team performed a procedure called a bilateral robotic ureteral reimplantation. The location where Roisin's ureters were connected to her bladder was repositioned to create an anti-refluxing mechanism -- one that typically develops naturally. The next day Roisin had recovered enough to return to the family's south suburban home.
"While we were driving home, Dr. Gong called to check on Roisin," says Nicole. "He even gave us his cell phone number. How many doctors would do that?"
Roisin has follow-ups twice a year to make sure her kidneys continue to grow properly. She and her family give rave reviews to the entire urology care team.
"It's not just a job for them, it's a mission," says Nicole. "As far as Ro is concerned, Dr. Gong is a rock star. She tells everyone that he saved her life, and even wrote him a thank you letter. She wants him to be her pen pal!"
This article originally appeared in the April 2016 issue of Heroes Update.