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Balancing Act: 5-year-old Alabama girl is in Chicago for life-saving surgery. COVID-19 has complicated every step of the way

By Heidi Stevens, Chicago Tribune on

Published in Health & Fitness

CHICAGO - Anne Marie Calligas was born fighting.

She arrived two months early, after a complicated pregnancy, and spent her first months of life battling congenital heart defects, hypertension, problems with her kidneys and bleeding in her young brain.

Her parents, Catherine and Louis Calligas, and her older sister, Isabel, grew quickly accustomed to the noises and smells and routines of hospitals. Even as Anne Marie aged past infancy and toddlerhood, a common cold could land her in the hospital with breathing problems.

In June, a gastrointestinal specialist diagnosed Anne Marie, now 5 years old, with a disease called Abernethy malformation. It's an extremely rare vascular anomaly whereby a portal vein is missing in the liver, allowing blood to go straight to Anne Marie's heart and lungs without the liver doing the important work of processing and filtering it first.

Catherine Calligas reached out to family members and friends who are physicians. None of them had even heard of Abernethy malformation. She turned to Google.

"I basically stayed on my computer for 48 hours straight," she said.

 

The Calligas family lives in Montgomery, Alabama. Catherine Calligas' research kept pointing her to Chicago.

"All you can really find are medical journal articles," she said. "I noticed a lot of them had either been authored by or referenced Dr. Superina."

That's Riccardo Superina, surgical director of the kidney and liver transplant programs at Ann and Robert H. Lurie Children's Hospital of Chicago. He's one of a handful of doctors in the world who does the surgery Anne Marie would need to address her condition. Patients have come to him from Australia, Vietnam, all over Europe.

"I stumbled across a YouTube video where the mother of a patient he had back in 2008 livestreamed an interview with him," Calligas said.

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