Story, Patient

Beating the Odds Thanks to Expert Surgeons

May 5, 2023

Antonio’s journey at Children’s Hospital Colorado started well before he was born when his expectant parents went in for a routine 20-week ultrasound.

A young boy pretending to fly in a cape is held up by a man

Although a baby’s heart is only about the size of a thumbnail during this stage of development, prenatal imaging detected multiple complex congenital heart defects. Antonio’s tiny heart was positioned on the right side of his body instead of the left, was facing the wrong way and had a hole in the middle; he also had a double outlet right ventricle, which impacted a lot of his care. His parents were referred to the Colorado Fetal Care Center at Children’s Hospital Colorado where they could give their little boy a fighting chance. There, the family met with fetal cardiology experts. Despite learning their son had additional heart defects, they felt hopeful.

“The fetal cardiology team reassured us they would do everything in their power to save our son, and Dr. James Jaggers, the heart surgeon, provided us with a lot of good options,” Antonio’s father, Tony recalls. “We cried happy tears for the first time.” Dr. Jaggers is the Barton-Elliman Chair in Pediatric Cardiothoracic Surgery.

Known as “Baby Superman,” Antonio was delivered in October 2017 surrounded by more than a dozen experts. To everyone’s surprise and joy, he was healthy enough that he didn’t require immediate medical intervention.

“Perfectly imbalanced”

“He came out looking pink not blue, which was good; it meant he was breathing ok,” Tony says. “One of his doctors described Antonio as ‘perfectly imbalanced,’ and I will never forget those words. He was beating the odds.”

The family stayed near Children’s Colorado at the Ronald McDonald House until Antonio was almost 1 month old. The family’s final appointment at Children’s Colorado before being discharged was on Halloween, and Antonio arrived dressed up in a tiny Superman costume. During the appointment, Antonio’s pulmonary artery suddenly closed, and he was rushed into emergency open-heart surgery.

After an uneventful recovery from surgery, the family was finally able to bring their son home to Albuquerque. Since then, they’ve traveled to Children’s Colorado every six months for monitoring. Due to the seriousness of Antonio’s condition, there have been multiple setbacks. To date, Antonio has undergone three more life-saving open-heart surgeries – one of which required him being airlifted from New Mexico to Colorado when he was just 6 months old. 

“There’s no such thing as minor heart surgery for us,” Antonio’s mother, Shelby, says. “But everyone at Children’s Colorado is always so confident and makes us feel okay.”

Antonio would greatly benefit from a heart transplant, which is too risky right now, but doctors haven’t ruled out the possibility in the future. In the meantime, the family relishes the everyday joys of life, determined to make the most of every moment.

“We’re so grateful to Children’s Colorado,” Shelby says. “We wouldn’t have Antonio without them.”

The preschooler is currently interested in dinosaurs, King Kong, Godzilla, the movie Frozen, and, of course, superheroes. Antonio also loves sports, especially watching football games with his dad and golfing with a tiny set of clubs that were donated to him. He also loves being a big brother to his sister, Maria, and is brand new baby brother, Ezekiel. 

“Antonio is very active and loveable – he’s just full of love,” Tony says. “He just wants to go outside and play and have fun.”

Achieving the best surgical outcomes

To be the nation’s premier child health surgical program, Children’s Colorado must achieve the best surgical outcomes by continuously elevating our surgical quality and safety goals.

Expansion of the surgical quality team is critical in creating a robust quality data infrastructure to house information, validate metrics, guide improvement efforts, and monitor outcome measures for divisions and surgeons. A well-rounded quality team includes surgical champions, such as clinical managers and data engineers, working to continually improve outcomes and equity of care. Under the direction of Cindy Barrett, MD, director of Surgical Quality and Safety, we plan to grow our dedicated surgical quality team to over 10 members — and philanthropic partnerships will be key to achieving this bold vision.