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Brave the unknown and conquer doubt

“We were inundated with patients during the 2005 flu season,” said Dawn Barba, a charge nurse at Children’s Hospital whose unit cares for kids with respiratory ailments. “A friend of mine at work came to me one day and said, ‘Have you met that hypoplastic left heart baby on Apollo?’ I didn’t know who she was talking about, but she went on to say, ‘He’s in foster care and needs to be adopted.’”

Dawn went home thinking about the baby boy on her unit with the flu and other more serious issues. She and her husband, Tony, had tried for years to have a child.

Born in Bakersfield with a severe heart defect, Phillip had been rushed to Children’s for lifesaving surgery.

Seven weeks later, he was discharged directly into foster care. “Everybody knew Phillip needed a home,” said Dawn of her coworkers. She met his foster parent and learned he’d soon return for more surgery.
Congenital heart defects are often repaired in stages. Phillip’s first of three surgeries occurred at 2 weeks old.

Dr. Edwin Petrossian, medical director, pediatric cardiothoracic surgery, performed the Norwood procedure so Phillip’s malformed heart could function with one good pumping chamber.

Phillip’s second-stage procedure, a bidirectional Glenn, would increase oxygen saturation and decrease the workload on his heart.

“I took Tony to meet Phillip the night before his second heart surgery,” said Dawn. “He was as blue as a blueberry. He looked up at us and had such a sweet spirit about him. That’s when my heart really went out to him.”

Dr. Petrossian skillfully completed the procedure. “Right after surgery I got a call, ‘Come up to the PICU and see your baby,’” said Dawn, referring to the Hospital’s pediatric intensive care unit. “I saw him lying there in that big bed and I said, ‘All right, this baby can’t go through life without a mommy or a daddy.’” She and Tony began the adoption process.

At age 4, Phillip returned to Children’s with his mommy and daddy. “It was supposed to be the quickest and simplest surgery of all,” said Dawn of her son’s third and final procedure, the Fontan, but complications kept Dr. Petrossian’s team fighting in surgery for Phillip’s life for nearly 15 hours.

Today, Phillip is a growing 8-year-old with a devoted family that includes two thankful parents and several amazing caregivers at Children’s Hospital who never gave up.

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