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UC Davis Health System

UC Davis Health System

Quick-thinking teacher and expert cardiac care save 6-year-old girl

Delaney Conway's teacher, parents and doctor © UC Regents
Delaney Conway (front) with (left to right): Celia Buckley, clinical nurse specialist, pediatric cardiology; Monica Conway, Delaney's mother; Douglas Conway, her father; and Jeanny Park.

Posted Aug. 24, 2011

It was the end of an ordinary day in February for Delaney Conway and everyone else at Village Elementary School in North Highlands when suddenly it became extraordinary for the 6-year-old and everyone around her.

Delaney collapsed without warning. Her teacher, Christy Santin, immediately began performing CPR, continuing chest compressions until an ambulance arrived.

When it did, paramedics discovered that Delaney's heart was in a life-threatening arrhythmia called idiopathic ventricular fibrillation. The paramedics used a defibrillator to resuscitate her prior to transporting her to a nearby hospital. Once there, the medical team determined she should be treated at a tertiary care hospital, UC Davis Children's Hospital.

From community hospital to UC Davis Children's Hospital

Physicians in the pediatric intensive care unit (PICU) dispatched the hospital's critical care transport team to transfer Delaney from the community hospital to UC Davis, providing her with expert care during her journey. She would be treated in the PICU for nine days for a condition that is exceptionally rare, especially in young children, according to Jeanny Park, the pediatric cardiac electrophysiologist who cared for her.

"This is quite rare," Park said, "And it's even rarer to survive completely neurologically intact."

Delaney's teacher's quick thinking probably saved her life, Park said, ensuring that oxygen flowed to her vital organs, especially her brain, so that she has suffered no long-term disability from the incident.

UC Davis Children's Hospital © UC Regents

UC Davis Children's Hospital is the Sacramento region's only nationally ranked, comprehensive hospital for children, serving infants, children, adolescents and young adults with primary, subspecialty and critical-care services.

It includes the Central Valley's only pediatric emergency department and level I pediatric trauma center, which offers the highest level of care for critically ill children. The 110-bed hospital includes a 49-bed, state-of-the-art neonatal intensive care unit and a 16-bed pediatric intensive care unit. With more than 120 physicians in 33 subspecialties, UC Davis Children's Hospital has more than 74,000 clinic and hospital visits and 13,000 emergency department visits each year. For more information, visit children.ucdavis.edu.

Once someone has an episode of idiopathic ventricular fibrillation, they are at increased risk of experiencing subsequent episodes. So, Park gave Delaney a gift that would keep on giving — and far sooner than anyone could have anticipated.

Park implanted a defibrillator into the happy, active little girl's chest. The device has remote-monitoring capabilities that allow her doctors to know when it is activated.

One month later, at around 3 a.m., the device activated while Delaney was sleeping. The activation didn't awaken the child or her parents, though the family dog started barking when it heard the tones it emitted.

"Without the defibrillator, she wouldn't have made it. We would have been asleep and probably wouldn't have found her until the next morning," said Delaney's grateful mother, Monica Conway.

Return to life as a normal kid

Today, Delaney's life is back to her normal. With her defibrillator in place and following a regimen of beta blockers, she has had no further difficulties, Conway said.

The Conways feel a definite bond with the teacher who saved their daughter's life. Santin was named Teacher of the Year for Village Elementary, which is in the Twin Rivers School District.

The family also has bonded with the PICU staff, and since has made donations to the hospital's Child Life and Creative Arts Therapy Program and to the Children's Miracle Network.

"She had a great team of doctors and nurses," Conway said of her daughter's treatment at UC Davis Children's Hospital. "The child life specialists also took great care of her. She missed school, but they kept her occupied with arts and crafts."

"The entire staff, from dietary to doctors, was so patient and understanding," Conway said. "A couple of the nurses went well above and beyond to care for her. It was amazing."