Monday, January 8, 2007
Annual checkup

Revisiting the stories of 2006

Stories by Elizabeth Cooney TELEGRAM & GAZETTE STAFF
ecooney@telegram.com

Looking back, looking forward. Last year's health stories were a mix of hope and struggle, of science and simplicity. Maggie, the therapy dog, warmed hearts with her presence and rebounded from an illness of her own. Angelina Sahin and her family endured her ordeal coping with a congenital heart defect. Dr. Dario Altieri sees hope in progress toward a novel drug to target cancer. And Worcester smokers are encouraged to try to stop, even if they've failed before.

Angelina Sahin knows the name of all her medications, when to take them and what they're for. She knows how to use a stethoscope and the way to take blood pressure readings. She listens to hearts and lungs.

Angelina is 2 years old and her patients are her dolls.

"She learned so much from being in the hospital," her mother, Angela Sahin of Worcester, said last week. "She's very smart for her age and very mature."

Angelina was born with a congenital heart defect called hypoplastic left heart syndrome, which means the left side of her heart did not develop properly. She needed three operations to fashion a way for her right ventricle to take over the left ventricles' job of pumping blood to the body.

The third of three surgeries was scheduled for last May, but because Mrs. Sahin was pregnant and due to deliver in July, the date was changed to March 30. That was a good thing, Mrs. Sahin said, because Angelina ended up spending almost three months in Children's Hospital Boston, including nine weeks in intensive care. She and her husband stayed in Boston, at first in the hospital and then in a nearby residence for families of patients.

zoom-1.jpeg

A week after her surgery, Angelina developed pneumonia and later had leakage from one of the procedures done on her heart. She had to be placed on life support in the form of extracorporeal membrane oxygenation, or ECMO. The heart-lung bypass machine is like a big dialysis machine, as Mrs. Sahin explains it. All the blood leaving the body gets oxygenated and pumped back through the heart and lungs.

Angelina stayed on the ECMO for a week. During that week she also needed a cardiac catheterization procedure to correct blood flow in her heart, Mrs. Sahin said.

When she was finally strong enough to be taken off the ECMO, she needed physical therapy to learn how to walk again. She came home with a nasogastric tube for feeding because she refused to eat at first.

Her little brother, Nasir, was born July 1. He does not have a congenital heart defect, but in his short life he has also had to have surgery. He was born with pyloric stenosis, a narrowing of the stomach where it joins the small intestine. Complications kept him in the ICU at UMass Memorial Medical Center for three weeks.

Mrs. Sahin has grown accustomed to the sophisticated medical technology and terminology surrounding her daughter's care. People often think she's a nurse, she said. She recently returned to work as a Head Start home visitor, but thinks she'd like to go to nursing school to become a registered nurse and work in an ICU.

She saw some heartrending things during Angelina's hospital stay while she was six, then seven, then eight months pregnant.

"It was a lot to deal with," she said. "You have no choice when it's your child. You just have this instinct, this drive to just keep going. It's the only way I can describe it."

She thanks her family, friends and church — Belmont Street A.M.E. Zion Church — for their help and prayers during the ordeal, as well as the support group Friends with Heart. Angelina has been healthy since she came home, having only a cold or two so far in the fall and winter.

"Long term, we don't know what's going to happen," her mother said. "We are blessed. She is a very special little girl."