Perhaps it was a mother’s instinct. Tawny Escatel had an unnerving feeling that something was wrong with her newborn son, Logan.

“His breathing was quick, almost like he was gasping,” recalls Tawny.

At Logan’s one-month checkup, a pediatrician assured Tawny and her husband, Leonardo, that their son’s rapid breathing was normal. When the Escatels asked again at the baby’s three-month checkup, the pediatrician diagnosed asthma and prescribed albuterol for breathing treatment at home. But it was only when Logan contracted a throat infection at eight months that the real nature of his problem was identified, making the Escatels’ worst fears a reality.

Fighting For Life

“Logan was wheezing, his voice was raspy, his breathing was very strained,” says Tawny. He was rushed by ambulance to Miller Children’s Hospital Long Beach, where a series of tests—including an ultrasound of his heart— revealed two life-threatening congenital cardiac defects. The Escatels’ son had been born with an abnormal connection of the blood vessels between his lungs and heart, causing diminished oxygen to his body and a heavy strain on his heart. He also had a hole between his right and left heart chambers. Fighting for his life, Logan needed surgery—and there wasn’t much time.

“Logan’s heart had been trying to get by for so many months and it finally reached its limit by the time he arrived at Miller Children’s,” explains Shaun Setty, M.D., medical director of pediatric and adult congenital cardiac surgery. Dr. Setty’s newly created position underscores the importance of his specialty at Miller Children’s.

Within hours of arriving at Miller Children’s, Logan was in the operating room. Dr. Setty, an expert pediatric cardiothoracic surgeon, performed an intricate five-hour operation, reconnecting the pulmonary veins from Logan’s lungs to the left side of his heart. This allowed the blood to flow normally. He also repaired the hole between the heart chambers. The care Logan received after surgery was critical for his survival. A dedicated group of pediatric intensive care unit specialists worked closely with the cardiac team, providing 24-hour monitoring and expert knowledge. After 12 days in the hospital, Logan returned home without any major complications—and with a normally functioning heart. “We always knew we were in the best hands at Miller Children’s,” says Leonardo.

The Escatels’ experience emphasizes the importance of children’s hospitals for specialized pediatric care. “Children’s bodies function differently than adults do,” says Dr. Setty. “There are many different types of congenital cardiac disorders, each of them displaying different anatomical connections. The manifestations of congenital cardiac disease is different than that of the sick adult heart. Everything is at a much smaller level. The adult heart, for example, is the size of an adult fist, while a child’s heart is as small as a walnut.” Additionally, children communicate differently and have unique emotional responses.

Unique Needs

The pediatric specialists at Miller Children’s have devoted many years to understanding the intricacies of how a child’s body and mind works. The result is an environment that addresses the complex physical and emotional needs of young heart patients.

Miller Children’s provides family-centered cardiac treatment to children of all ages, ranging from before birth through young adulthood. As a California Children’s Services-approved Cardiology Special Care Center, the hospital also offers leading-edge follow-up care. Additionally, treatment and preventive care plans are available for children with a family history of heart disease, as well as those suffering from chest pain, fainting, palpitations, high blood pressure and high cholesterol levels.

Seeking New Answers

Dr. Setty’s goal is to expand the program’s research component. The generous contribution of an anonymous donor through the Memorial Medical Center Foundation has created an endowed chair for Dr. Setty and his team to unlock some of the medical mysteries of congenital heart disease.

But for patients, Miller Children’s commitment to family-centered care will always remain at the “heart” of the program. “When Logan was being rushed into surgery, a wonderful nurse waited with my husband and me and took us to see our baby before he was wheeled into the operating room,” recalls Tawny. “I needed to blow him a kiss and that nurse made sure I was able to do it.”

For more information on the pediatric congenital cardiac program, visit Miller Children’s Hospital Long Beach.