Young Christopher Canaday is alive today thanks to a team of physicians and caregivers across two Advocate Children’s Hospital campuses—and the support of his two remarkable brothers.
As teenagers, Christopher Canaday and his older brothers, Brandon and Chad, have a tight bond that goes far beyond playing sports and video games together. Brandon and Chad have been by Christopher’s side for nearly every one of his 28 medical procedures, surgeries and hospital stays.
When Christopher was born at a hospital near the family’s DeKalb home, he immediately turned blue. Amy and Mark Canaday were terrified: The same thing happened in 1996 following Amy’s first pregnancy, and the couple lost their newborn daughter, Briana. Genetic testing had assured them the chances of having another baby with the same condition was .009 percent, but little Christopher was fighting for his life.
Christopher was immediately airlifted to another hospital, where his diagnosis was confirmed: pulmonary atresia—a heart defect where the left side of the heart is not fully developed, thereby obstructing the flow of blood to the lungs. Within three hours, it was clear he needed an even higher level of care, so Christopher was taken by helicopter to Advocate Children’s Hospital – Oak Lawn (then known as Advocate Hope Children’s Hospital). There the family met internationally renowned pediatric cardiovascular surgeon Michel Ilbawi, MD.
Dr. llbawi determined that Christopher would need a series of three open-heart surgeries to redirect the flow of blood to his lungs and allow oxygenated blood to circulate throughout his body. So at just 16 days old, Christopher had his first surgery. With the support of multiple doctors, nurses, friends and family—especially Brandon and Chad, who were eagerly waiting to see their baby brother up close—Christopher made it through the first of many hospital stays.
Christopher had his second major open-heart surgery when he was 1 year old and the third when he was 3. Amy and Mark did not want to go back and forth between Christopher in the hospital and his brothers at home, so when Christopher was in the hospital, the whole family was there. During the early years, the family stayed at a guest house near the hospital in Oak Lawn, allowing them the opportunity to be together and still be close to Christopher.
“We were so scared we were going to lose Christopher, too,” Amy remembers. “After Briana passed away, we vowed to let our other children live life to the fullest. So we took it day by day hoping to be able to give Christopher a chance to be a little boy and experience everything he could.”
An Extended Family
As Christopher grew, he needed additional surgeries and procedures. “Only half of Christopher’s heart is functioning, and it is doing the job of both sides,” explains Dr. Ilbawi. “Because of his condition, Christopher is predisposed to abnormal heart rhythms, throughout his life. He will need to be continually monitored.”
In 2006 Christopher went into ventricular tachycardia—a potentially life-threatening arrhythmia. To help regulate Christopher’s heartbeat Dr. Ilbawi implanted a pacemaker, this time at Advocate Children’s Hospital – Park Ridge (formerly Advocate Lutheran General Children’s Hospital).
“There was such a seamless transition between the two hospitals,” says Amy. “The staff at both sites was phenomenal, and we were thankful that many of our physicians were able to treat Christopher at either campus. The doctors and nurses became part of our family. We looked forward to seeing them. Everyone was so caring, compassionate and accommodating.”
Christopher always wanted his brothers by his side and that meant having five people in the room, not counting the staff. “My brothers entertained me and helped keep my mind off of things,” says Christopher. “The hospital also had fun things for us to do together, like video games in each room.”
Spending so much time in hospitals has taught the Canaday family a great deal about themselves, the field of medicine and the important role philanthropy plays at Advocate.
“It is the little things that make Advocate Children’s Hospital a home away from home,” says Amy, who learned that valuable programs like child life therapy are supported by charitable gifts from the community, hospital staff and local organizations. “Not a day goes by where Christopher is not doing one of the many magic tricks he learned from the Open Heart Magic program at the hospital. He still sleeps with the pillow and blanket he received in the Pediatric Surgical Heart Unit. He appreciated the time he spent with his brothers playing games donated by grateful families. Philanthropy is what makes the hospital stays special.”
The Canaday family also learned that the leading-edge technology and research that benefited Christopher was also supported by donated funds. Philanthropy allows the hospital to purchase new equipment and investigate new procedures and medications.
But one of the most important things they learned was how dedicated the nurses, therapists and physicians are. Amy even went so far as to send a card to the wife and children of pediatric cardiologist Marc Ovadia, MD, thanking them for being understanding of his time away from his family—time that the physician spent saving Christopher’s life.
And although Christopher’s medical journey is not over, he is doing what his parents vowed he would do. He enjoys sports with his brothers, attends school and has time to just be a kid. “Every day is a gift, and you need to make the best of it,” says Amy. “When the staff at Advocate Children’s Hospital shows they care, it makes it easier on our family.”
First published: Spring 2013