After Months in Pediatric Intensive Care Unit, Life Returns to Normal

May 15, 2002

Just eight days before becoming a teen-ager, Stephen LoPresti was lying in a hospital bed, engaged in a monumental struggle between life and death. Today, after spending more than three months in the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit at Golisano Children's Hospital at Strong, he's almost back to living the life of a normal teen.

As part of its Miracle Weekend celebration June 1-2, Golisano Children's Hospital at Strong is honoring five children - including Stephen - as Miracle Kids. Each overcame significant health problems while being treated at Golisano Children's Hospital.

Stephen's Story

On July 10, 2001, Stephen went to work with his grandfather, a homebuilder who offered him the chance to spend the day with him at a subdivision in which he was working. As the 12-year-old walked around the site, 18 slabs of sheet rock accidentally toppled onto him. The construction materials, weighing an estimated 1,000 pounds, kept him pinned for nearly 20 minutes, seriously restricting blood flow to vital organs.

An ambulance rushed the boy to Golisano Children's Hospital, where the region's only general pediatric surgeons were waiting. "I was in total shock," says Stephen's mother, Stephanie LoPresti, "but I really thought he'd be going home the next day."

Stephen didn't leave Golisano Children's Hospital until late October, spending all but two days of his time in the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit (PICU). Now, he's at home in Spencerport and back in school.

That Stephen is even alive today is a miracle, say PICU physicians. "What makes Stephen's case so remarkable is his complete recovery from multiple organ system failure," says Frank Maffei, M.D., a pediatric intensivist. "At one point or another - and, at times, simultaneously - he suffered neurological compromise, kidney failure, liver failure, and respiratory failure. His survival serves as a manual for pediatric intensive care after a lifesaving surgery."

"During the first few weeks in the hospital, Stephen experienced kidney failure that required dialysis," says Karen Powers, M.D., who cared for the boy in the PICU. "His liver then failed, causing him to fall into a coma. At one point, his brain swelled so much that blood supply was nearly cut off to the organ. Aggressive, rapid intervention to decrease the brain swelling prevented him from dying. And he was followed closely because we thought he may need a liver transplant."

Even after spending a month in the PICU, doctors weren't sure Stephen would survive. "At one point, Stephen developed severe liver and intestinal failure," says Luis Mieles, M.D., a pediatric transplant surgeon at Golisano Children's Hospital. "In anticipation of a possible multi-organ transplant - this is the only upstate hospital capable of performing such procedures - the pediatric transplant team was consulted. Although the excellent care here eventually spared Stephen a multi-organ transplant, several complex surgeries, performed by the pediatric general and transplant surgeons, were required to save his life."

Mieles played a key role during a nine-hour surgery to stem internal bleeding several weeks after the accident. "Stephen was taken to the operating room, where Dr. Mieles tried to locate the source of internal bleeding," Powers recalls. "At one point, he nearly stopped because of uncontrolled, massive bleeding. But something told him to continue, and miraculously he was able to locate the bleeding vessel." During the surgery, Stephen lost more than six gallons of blood.

During the next several weeks, Stephen was slowly weaned from the ventilator that helped him breathe. Occupational and physical therapists helped him learn to walk again. "The expertise of the doctors in that Pediatric Intensive Care Unit - and the entire Children's Hospital - was nothing short of phenomenal," LoPresti says. "They were always one step ahead, always making the right decisions that saved Stephen's life."

It wasn't just the doctors who get kudos, though. LoPresti invited one of the PICU nurses, Melinda Romano, to Thanksgiving dinner. "She's just like a member of the family," Lopresti says. "She helped Stephen get this through this. She helped me get through this."

Miracle Weekend Celebration

Miracle Weekend is always one of the most exciting times of the year for Golisano Children's Hospital. It includes two major events.

The Golisano Children's Hospital Telethon will be broadcast live from the hospital on 10NBC June 1-2. In addition, Miracle Weekend always includes the Stroll for Strong Kids, to be held at 11 a.m. Saturday, June 1, at Genesee Valley Park. Children's activities and registration for the scenic two-mile walk start at 9 a.m. When finished with their "Stroll," walkers will be treated to a free lunch provided by Outback Steakhouse. There will be music by Gary the Happy Pirate, and many fun activities for the kids.

Participants are asked to raise money through sponsorship pledges from family members, friends and co-workers. Those who raise $75 or more in pledges will receive a commemorative t-shirt, and prizes will be awarded to the top fund-raisers. Last year, some 800 people took part, raising more than $80,000 for Golisano Children's Hospital. Pre-registration is required. To register for the Stroll for Strong Kids, or learn more about any Miracle Weekend event, call 585-273-5948.

In addition to honoring children such as Stephen, Miracle Weekend allows the hospital to raise funds that provide needed equipment for the children it serves, and items that make their stay a little easier.

Money raised will be used by Golisano Children's Hospital to buy equipment, such as preemie blood-pressure cuffs, and supplies that make hospital stays easier, such as IV pole wagons, videos and games, and sleeper chairs so parents have a comfortable place to rest when they stay with their children.

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