Cottage Children’s Hospital is now one of just seven certified pediatric trauma centers in California, but standing in the hospital’s corridor Tuesday morning, 8-year-old Dominic Cano didn’t seem to care much about certifications or paperwork.
He was thinking about whether he would play football this year and doting on his baby brother, not about the accident that almost claimed his life last July.
Other than the 3-inch scar obscured by a head of thick brown hair, it’s hard to believe Cano was once fighting for his life after falling off a trampoline at a cousin’s home in Paso Robles.
Dominic’s grandmother, Elena Chavez, recalled rushing Dominic to the emergency room of a San Luis Obispo hospital after the incident.
“It was the scariest day of my life,” she said, adding that it was in the emergency room waiting room that Chavez noticed her grandson acting strangely. “He asked me to pray for him,” and then she noticed he was gasping for air and that his eyes weren’t moving.
That’s when hospital staff called Dr. Richard Lehman, director of pediatric transport for Cottage Children’s Hospital.
Lehman had no qualms about requesting that the little boy be transported via helicopter to Santa Barbara immediately.
“Fifteen minutes could have meant life or death or a significant disability for Dominic,” Lehman said.
Dominic had suffered arterial bleeding in his brain, and underwent an emergency craniotomy conducted by surgeon Alois Zauner to drain the blood. He was in the pediatric intensive care unit recovering for five days after the surgery, and has made a complete recovery, his family said Tuesday.
About 120 children are admitted to the trauma center every year, and about 60 percent suffer from brain injuries like Dominic’s, according to Dr. Stephen Kaminski, medical director of trauma services.
The children’s hospital was certified a level two pediatric trauma center by the American College of Surgeons last week, making it the only facility of its kind between San Jose and Los Angeles.
The hospital’s helipad has proved to be lifesaving for many trauma patients since it opened in February 2012. With adult patients suffering traumatic injuries, doctors often talk about a “golden hour” for treatment before a patient’s condition starts to deteriorate, often irreversibly, Kaminski said.
For kids, that crucial window of time is closer to 30 minutes, making a swift transport imperative.
“We’ve always stepped up to the plate” to care for children with traumatic injuries, Kaminski said, but reaching for the certification allowed the center to fill in gaps, such as having anesthesiologists and neurosurgeons available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Cottage is now one of only seven pediatric trauma centers in California certified by the American College of Surgeons.
That certification culminated with inspectors being at Cottage for two full days, but examining patient documents and outcomes from the past year.
“It’s a big undertaking,” Kaminski said, adding that more than 200 staff members make the pediatric trauma center work from day to day.
Kaminski called Dominic’s care “an amazing team effort,” with a whole host of experts working on his case.
Looking at the smiling young boy standing just feet away, “you never would have imagined he was that close to death,” Kaminski said.
Dominic has fallen back into the routine of a normal life, and when classmates remark about the scar on his head, he tells them about riding in the helicopter that helped keep him alive, Chavez said.
“He always says that Cottage Hospital saved his life,” she said. “We are grateful to God that He put Dominic in good hands.”