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Saving Gabriel Lesnik – A Slovenian baby born with complex heart defects

A team of doctors who were essential during the surgery of a baby with heart defects
Throughout life, there is always a time when you need support from people who care. I believe that the best support system comes from family – our brothers, sisters, children, etc… That’s one of the main reasons why Petra and I decided to have another child. That child is our son, Gabriel.

The pregnancy was uncomplicated at first until my wife experienced critical bleeding. After an emergency examination, we were told that she had placenta previa (a condition in which the placenta lies too low, blocking the cervix and often separating from the uterine wall). On June 14, during week 32 of our pregnancy, Gabriel was born.

The birth was complicated for both mother and son. My wife lost almost 3 liters of blood that day, and Gabriel was born with a weak heartbeat and had to be resuscitated. The next day, our doctors at the Celje General Hospital in Slovenia performed several tests and exams on our baby boy. After evaluating the results, they diagnosed him with two different heart anomalies.

The hospital in Celje was not equipped to handle these types of serious cardiac disorders, so they immediately transferred our tiny son via medical helicopter to a larger hospital in Ljubljana.

For me, the news about Gabriel’s heart condition was like having my worst nightmare come true. After barely surviving the birth, we knew there was a chance of something going seriously wrong – but hearing that it had actually happened was devastating. I’ll never forget that moment.

From the second we learned about his diagnosis until the happy end, our lives became a treacherous emotional rollercoaster. The physicians in Ljubljana treated and stabilized Gabriel in the short-term, but he needed complex surgery to fix his heart for the long term.

The anxious period we spent waiting for a decision on how and where to have Gabriel’s surgery performed was one of the hardest parts of our whole ordeal. Especially because we, as his parents, were not involved in the decisions that were being made about how to save our son’s life, and we felt helpless. We knew there were a few options, and time was not on our side.

Later on, we discovered that one extremely dedicated doctor, Dr. Grosek from the pediatric hospital in Ljubljana, was responsible for getting Gabriel to Israel. From the bottom of my heart, I extend a huge thank you to Dr. Grosek.

Keep in mind, I didn’t know a single thing about Israel or Sheba Medical Center until the day we found out that we were headed there. So naturally, my first reaction was What? Where? And why are we going to Israel? At that point, all I felt was anger over how long it had taken to reach this decision. But then, I did my homework and read everything there is to know about Sheba and the doctor who was waiting to treat Gabriel – Dr. David Mishaly, Director of the Department of Pediatric & Congenital Cardiothoracic Surgery.

Now, I tell everybody I meet that Dr. David Mishaly was put on this world with a mission to save as many children as he can, and he is passionately committed to fulfilling that mission. There are no words to do justice to describing David and his talents. We give a tremendous thank you to David, the entire ICU staff, and Rimma, our personal medical coordinator at Sheba.

Gabriel’s complicated surgery took approximately four hours, and then he remained at Sheba Medical Center for 15 days. The first four hours were the longest and hardest in my life. I still see a clear image of David’s face – and I will forever see that image – when he finally came out from the operating room, sharing the wonderful news with us!

The ICU staff was absolutely amazing. They were professional and confident, and they reacted with lightning speed, knowing what to do at every moment. I’ll always remember them! I promised that one day, our son Gabriel will visit them as a tourist to Israel. I want him to meet all of these good people who saved his life.

Rimma, our personal medical coordinator at Sheba, infused her special kindness and support into our experience constantly, coordinating everything perfectly and always saying the right words at the right time. We send a big thanks to her!

Finally, I have been meeting people here in Slovenia with children who have similar heart conditions. With no hesitation, I tell them – Israel is where you need to go! Even though it’s far away, no distance is too great to travel when it comes to saving your child’s life.

Successful surgery for Gabriel, a baby with heart defects, was performed by Dr. Mishaly (right)

Along with all of the support I received in Israel, I must also thank Gabriel’s mom, Petra, and my first son, Lovro, who were a powerful source of energy and mental reassurance that helped me to overcome Gabriel’s trial. I love you all!

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