February is American Heart Month — Cyrus’ story

Just in time for American Heart Month, learn about our courageous patient, Cyrus, who underwent complex open heart surgery. His successful journey was met by much celebration from his family and his team of CHOC experts.

Hypoplastic Left Heart Syndrome (HLHS) is a rare congenital heart defect, which is 100 percent fatal if left untreated. Sunny and Jereme Brixey knew about their baby’s risks even before Cyrus was born in 2008, having been prenatally diagnosed.

Prior to Cyrus’ birth, the cardiac team at CHOC Children’s already had a plan of action: an approach involving three different open heart surgeries. Three days after he was born, Cyrus underwent complex open heart surgery. He had a second heart surgery at 4 months and a third at 4 years.

After the third procedure in 2013, Cyrus took a long time to recover in the hospital. After being in the hospital for nearly two months due to persistent drainage from a chest tube, Cardiovascular Intensive Care Unit (CVICU) physician Dr. Michele Domico suggested that Cyrus could be discharged home with a portable chest drain. He would be the first patient in the hospital’s history to be sent home with this device. The cardiologists and surgeons agreed and ordered the new portable chest drain for Cyrus, allowing him to go home.

Cyrus, with Dr. Michele Domico, medical director of CHOC Children's CVICU and Choco, at a CHOC Night at Angels Stadium event.
Cyrus, with Dr. Michele Domico, medical director of CHOC Children’s CVICU and Choco, at a CHOC Night at Angels Stadium event.

At home, Cyrus’ parents took care of him and his chest drain so that he could heal, and the drain was able to be removed after a few weeks. This successful procedure was met by a large cheer from Cyrus’ entire CHOC team. For Sunny and Jereme, this expression of joy reflected the care Cyrus received every step of his journey. In addition to the clinical excellence of the medical team, the Brixeys believe the team’s positive, encouraging words, as well as the support extended to the entire family, were a huge factor in his recovery. Since then, the CVICU team has used the portable chest drain in several other patients with great success.

Learn more about the CHOC Children’s Heart Institute.


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CVICU Provides Special Post-Procedure Care to Heart Patients

Patients who have undergone complex, cardiovascular procedures at the CHOC Children’s Heart Institute require specialized care and attention. At CHOC, they get just that in a dedicated, 12-bed Cardiovascular Intensive Care Unit (CVICU).

In CHOC’s CVICU, children receive attention from pediatric cardiac-trained intensivists, nurse practitioners, critical-care registered nurses, and an interdisciplinary medical team. All rooms are private and fully equipped with leading-edge technology that meets the demands of monitoring and treating children with heart problems, and those who have undergone complex heart surgery and heart catheterization procedures. CHOC is the only facility in Orange County that performs open heart surgery on newborns and children.

That combination of well-trained experts and topnotch facilities can lead to improved patient outcomes. The Heart Institute has outcomes above the national averages for overall survival rate and neonatal survival rate. CHOC is routinely named to the Leapfrog Group’s annual list of Top Children’s Hospitals, recognizing a commitment to provide the safest and highest quality of health care.

“Cardiovascular patients are unique and delicate. They require complex care and management. CVICU staff members understand these kids’ physiology,” says Allie Quill, RN, a clinical outcomes coordinator at CHOC. “When our patients get into trouble, their treatment is not routine. All of our kids are so different and require such fine tuning.”

CVICU care team

Cardiac pediatric subspecialists are especially trained to care for heart patients in need of critical care, and they have advanced knowledge of cardiovascular disorders.

“Pediatric heart specialists have extra training and experience in caring for children with unique and severe cardiac disorders, something a general care team or an adult cardiac doctor may not be as comfortable with,” says Dr. Michele Domico, medical director of the CVICU.

The CVICU’s design also plays a critical role in improving outcomes for patients. The space encourages parent-clinical caregiver interaction, and ensures a peaceful, healing environment.  Our staff recognizes the role that loved ones play in patient healing.

Each private CVICU patient room is divided into three areas:

  • The first area, closest to the doorway, is the nurse’s zone. Here, visitors will notice a wheeled cart that holds a computer and supplies to allow bedside charting and full access to patients.
  • The second area belongs to the patient, and features gas hook-ups, monitors and other equipment.
  • The third area is the parent zone, which includes a sleep sofa, reading light, sink, telephone and other amenities to ensure family comfort.

The CHOC CVICU also includes two fully-equipped procedure rooms that allow physicians to perform life-saving surgery on patients who otherwise could not be transported out of the unit.

Certain heart conditions warrant a series of surgeries throughout childhood, necessitating several stays in the CVICU. For that reason, CVICU staff members often develop close and lasting relationships with patients and families.

“Parents often come back and visit us after their child has been discharged, to thank us for taking special care of their child,” says Domico. “Every year our team receives dozens of school photos and holiday cards from families who we were fortunate enough to bond with in the CVICU. It’s a privilege to see the children we’ve treated grow up and have a healthy childhood.”

Learn more about CHOC’s CVICU.

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