Three-year-old heads home after miraculous recovery

A mysterious illness and sudden heart failure were just the beginning

On May 10, Charles Clayman brought his three-year-old son Liam to the Emergency Department (ED) at the Montreal Children’s Hospital (MCH). Liam had been vomiting for a few days and his parents thought the smell was getting worse. They determined he was extremely dehydrated and after being rushed into the ED’s trauma room, he went into cardiac arrest. “When my husband called to tell me what was going on, I screamed so loud that I woke up my other son,” says Véronique Aglat, Liam’s mother. “I drove to the hospital as quickly as I could.”

Liam was in cardiac arrest for over 30 minutes. The ED team worked on him non-stop, pumping his heart, and doing everything they could to keep him alive. When Véronique arrived at the hospital, she was told that her son’s heart was finally beating on its own. “When I got there, I ran up to Liam and he squeezed my hand,” says Véronique. “The doctors said that was a good sign, so I really thought the worst was behind us. But it was only the beginning.”

Liam was then moved to the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit (PICU), where Dr. Pramod Puligandla told the family their son was extremely sick. Dr. Puligandla had two theories about why their son went into cardiac arrest, one of which was called intussusception, when part of the small intestine folds itself into another section of the intestine. Dr. Puligandla confirmed this with an ultrasound and told the family he would need to operate on Liam immediately. “Doctors removed forty centimeters of his small intestine,” says Véronique. “It was touch and go for three days after that.”

Unfortunately, Liam’s lungs were affected by the manual cardiac pumping that was done to keep him alive. He also suffered from a pneumothorax, when a lung collapses because of air trapped between the lungs and chest cavity, and went into acute respiratory stress. He was placed on an oscillator to help him breathe. “By mid-week doctors were not sure if he was going to survive,” says Véronique. “He was in and out of consciousness.” The Aglat-Clayman family began a 24-hour vigil. Véronique, Charles and Véronique’s mother, sat by his side, held his hand, read his favourite books and spoke to him non-stop. Véronique also sang The Sound of Silence and Hello Darling, songs she had never sang to him before. They hoped he could hear them.

A week later Liam was transferred from the old Children’s to the new Children’s on the Glen site. The ordeal was stressful for the family, but they knew he was in good hands. “Everybody in the PICU was so competent,” says Véronique. “And once we got there, they allowed me to hold Liam in my arms for the first time in two weeks. It was wonderful.” A week after the transfer, Liam was scheduled for an MRI to determine if he had suffered any long-term brain damage from his lengthy cardiac arrest. Miraculously, he hadn’t.

Liam lost about fifty per cent of his motor ability, but has regained most of it back. His left side was left weaker, but physiotherapy has helped immensely. He is currently working on his core and will begin to see a speech therapist to help with a mild speech impediment he developed. “This was the worst experience of our lives, but I am so grateful for everything the hospital did for us and Liam,” says Véronique. “Liam is almost back to normal, which I think is a real miracle.” And now when she sings The Sound of Silence and Hello Darling, he sings the last couple of words right back.

“I guess he was listening after all.”

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October 25 – 31 marks Canadian Intensive Care Week. Thank you to our Pediatric Intensive Care Unit and Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) for saving lives every day.