Gino's Story

Gino has been a cardiology patient at Children’s National since before he was born. His mother Dieana was looking forward to welcoming a healthy baby boy, a younger brother for her two daughters. Her pregnancy was progressing normally until her 19-week obstetrical ultrasound at her local hospital showed that Gino had a ventricular septal defect (VSD), a hole in the wall connecting the two lower chambers of his heart.  “It was like being hit by a bus,” Dieana said of hearing the news. That’s when she came to Children’s National, where she was introduced to Mary Donofrio, MD, Director of the Fetal Heart Program. 

Dr. Donofrio diagnosed the VSD as part of a larger diagnosis that included severe narrowing of the aorta, the major artery which carries blood from the heart to the body. Dr. Donofrio worked with Dieana and her doctors to create a care plan, including where to deliver so that they would be as close to Children’s as possible. They planned for Gino to have surgery soon after he was born. Dieana met with Dilip Nath, MD, Gino’s cardiac surgeon, who explained exactly what he would do during the surgery. “Before talking to him, I couldn’t hold myself together without crying,” Dieana said. “Once I spoke with him, it became really real.”

Dieana delivered Gino on July 15 at a nearby hospital. Not even three hours after he was born, Gino was transported to the Cardiac Intensive Care Unit at Children’s National, where his circulation was monitored while the care team prepared for his surgery. When he was 5 days old, Gino had open heart surgery to repair both the VSD and the aorta. Dr. Nath repaired the hole in Gino’s heart and reconstructed the aortic arch by joining two parts of the disconnected blood vessel, and making it larger in the process. 

“The surgery was scary,” Dieana said. “The type of surgery Gino had made the surgeon have to think outside the box, and I feel really lucky to have had Dr. Nath as our surgeon.”

For the next two months, Gino stayed at the hospital with Dieana by his side and Dr. Donofrio right there with her. “Having Dr. Donofrio by my side was amazing. She was a total angel for me,” Dieana said. “She just made everything easier for me. I will never lose contact with her, even if Gino becomes someone else’s patient.” 

“Gino was born with a very complicated heart defect. If we had not diagnosed it before birth, it is likely he would have gotten very sick in the first few days of life. Because we were prepared and able to plan his care after delivery, he did well. I look forward to caring for Gino and watching him grow up. It is the best part of the job,” said Dr. Donofrio. 

For Dieana, staying strong was important as she juggled hospital life with the life she had with her other two children, ages 8 and 13, at home. They made it through the hospital stay by having Gino’s sisters visit when they could, and Gino was able to go home to his family on September 12. 

“The Cardiac ICU and Heart and Kidney Unit (HKU) nursing staff and frontline providers worked hard to ensure that Gino did very well after the surgery. He is a strong baby, and I am glad to see that he is thriving at home with his wonderful family,” said Dr. Nath. 

Since being home, Gino has been quite the adventurer. He’s playing with his sisters and babbling, and he is developmentally on track. Just five months after his surgery, his heart repair looks great, his heart function is normal, and a 24-hour heart monitor test showed no abnormal heartbeat. Dieana looks forward to spending more time with her curious little boy, who is full of energy from the time he wakes up in the morning until he goes to bed at night. 

Dieana’s advice for other parents going through similar situations: Every day, you have to walk in there like a soldier and just do it. The doctors, nurses, and nurse educators are there to help when you need it.

Treatment Team

  • Donofrio M

    Mary Donofrio
    Cardiologist | Director, Fetal Heart Program | Co-Director, Cardiac Neurodevelopmental Outcome Program

  • Nath D

    Dilip Nath
    Cardiac Surgeon

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