Plainfield baby owes life to doctor who later gave his own
By Tony Graf email@example.com August 9, 2012 9:28PM
Rick Kaczanko. left and his wife Kelly, sit with their baby, Emily, at Edward Hospital in Naperville, IL on Thursday August 9, 2012. Emily Kate Kaczanko was born weighing less than one pound (460 grams – 15 oz.) on January 11, 2012 in Edward Hospital’s Newborn Intensive Care Unit and went home went home on May 30, 2012. | Matt Marton~Sun-Times Media
Updated: September 11, 2012 6:21AM
PLAINFIELD — Emily Kaczanko weighed less than a pound when she was born 13 weeks premature in January.
She spent 142 days in the Newborn Intensive Care Unit at Edward Hospital in Naperville. She was diagnosed with a serious intestinal condition, and her life was in danger, her father said.
Then, Dr. Donald Liu and his team performed two crucial surgeries. A few weeks after the second surgery, Emily’s parents brought her home to Plainfield for the first time.
Liu had helped save a life.
He saved children’s lives on a regular basis.
And Sunday, he saved two more children’s lives during a rescue on Lake Michigan — before he drowned when a rip current swept him away.
Emily Kate Kaczanko, the daughter of Rick and Kelly Kaczanko, was born Jan. 11, weighing only 15 ounces. Rick and Kelly also have a son, Jonathan, 4.
Emily was delivered by Caesarean section and was only 12 inches long.
On Jan. 12, Rick wrote an update on his daughter’s condition, noting her small birth weight and her need to stay in the intensive care unit.
“She is already showing her feisty spirit and is off the ventilator and breathing on her own,” he wrote.
During the first part of her time in the intensive care unit, Emily was diagnosed with a serious intestinal condition.
“Luckily, the doctors knew what to look for, and they caught it,” Rick said Thursday.
Liu and his team performed surgeries March 22 and May 11.
On May 31, Rick and Kelly were able to bring Emily home for the first time. Her brother was waiting with grandfather Dick Biester.
“Some friends came over and decorated the house while we were picking her up,” Rick said. “It was great to have her home.”
On that day, Emily weighed 5 pounds, 4.2 ounces and was 17.5 inches long. She was taking all feedings by bottle. She needed no feeding tube and no machines — only a vitamin supplement and follow-up visits with pediatric subspecialists.
In a Chicago Sun-Times story this week, Liu was remembered for his work as a pediatric surgeon.
“This is a man that would wake up at 2 o’clock in the morning, be in the operating room in 10 or 15 minutes, literally save a child’s life,” Dr. John Alverdy said of his colleague on the University of Chicago website.
Over the weekend, Liu was taking a vacation in Lakeside, Mich., part of a stretch of shoreline extending from the Indiana border to Benton Harbor, Mich.
While Liu was at Lake Michigan on Sunday, he observed two boys, age 12, who had been knocked out of their kayaks by high waves. He saw that “children were in trouble and immediately went out into the water to help them,” said Bruce McKamey, a patrolman with the Chikaming Township police.
The children made it to shore, but the surgeon was swept away by the rip current, McKamey told the University of Chicago.
Liu, 50, is survived by three children and his wife, Dr. Dana Suskind. Services were held Wednesday morning.
“Dr. Liu was a highly skilled pediatric surgeon who had a national and even international reputation. We were privileged to have him on the Edward medical staff. He is someone who will be sorely missed in our community,” said Brian Davis, vice president for marketing and government relations for Edward Hospital & Health Services.
Legacy of care
At a recent doctor’s appointment, Emily weighed 8 pounds, 5 ounces and was 20 inches long. Seven months later, she still is smaller than many newborns. However, Rick says she is doing fine.
On Thursday, Emily returned to Edward Hospital. She was the center of attention as doctors held her and media outlets did interviews and snapped photographs.
Emily’s primary nursing and care team included Maria Sanchez, registered nurse and main day nurse; Annabelle Ponte, registered nurse; Julie Kinkaid, physical therapy; Armanda Randall, registered nurse and main night nurse; Zia Alavi, pharmacy; and Amanda Nelson, dietary.
“Edward Hospital cares for the sickest newborns. We are a Level III newborn intensive care unit. That’s the highest level that you can receive, the highest designation,” Davis said.
Julie Loos, a physical therapist, held Emily on Thursday and advised Kelly during the baby’s visit.
Emily’s health, her strength and her beauty are important reminders. They are the result of caring parents, a vigilant ICU staff that the Kaczanko family got to know well — and a man who saved young lives, even at the expense of his own.
Contributing: Chicago Sun-Times