Geaux Hero: A Triumph of Teamwork and Resilience

May 15, 2024 | Patient Stories

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Picture this: A young boy just going about his days like any other kid growing up in Hammond, playing baseball, riding his four-wheeler and enjoying a healthy Minecraft obsession, when suddenly he’s hit with leg pain and limping. 

For 7-year-old Dominic, this was the beginning of a journey that would test his bravery and resilience in ways his family never imagined. Spoiler alert: Dominic has come out on the other side stronger than ever, thanks to an incredible team at Our Lady of the Lake Children’s Hospital.

Initial Diagnosis: Infection

“We were finishing up his baseball season and Dominic was complaining of leg pain,” Heather, Dominic’s mom, explains. “We didn’t know if maybe he’d hurt it playing baseball or what was going on.”

Initially, doctors thought the pain was an infection and that antibiotics would take care of the problem. After an initial round of medicine, right around Thanksgiving 2023, Dominic’s left leg started swelling on his shin bone.

The family came to Baton Rouge on a Tuesday, and Dominic had a thorough medical evaluation at Our Lady of the Lake Children’s Hospital’s emergency room. He stayed overnight for an MRI the next morning, which led doctors to believe a surgery to clean the infection would be enough.

Brad Culotta, MD, performed the surgery that Wednesday afternoon.

“When he came out, I could see it on his face,” Heather remembers. “He could tell it didn’t look like typical infection.”

The Diagnosis No Family Wants to Hear

On Friday, Heather got the call to say it was cancer, specifically Ewing sarcoma, which was found before it had metastasized.

Right away, Dominic had an appointment scheduled with Sakshi Bami, MD, pediatric oncologist with the St. Jude Baton Rouge Affiliate Clinic at Our Lady of the Lake Children’s Health.

“Before we even left the hospital everything was lined up,” Heather says. “Everything happened so fast, they stayed on top of it.”

Dominic had an initial six rounds of chemo, which were taxing on his young body. His last chemo was in March, and in April he was scheduled for a surgery that involves extracting tissue from a healthy bone and transferring it to rebuild soft tissue and/or bone removed during a cancer resection.

A Surgical Solution: The First at Our Children’s Hospital

This microvascular surgery is more common for adults, and the team at Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center performs free flap tissue surgeries regularly.

But conducting such a complex surgery across Essen Lane at our children’s hospital was a significantly different undertaking. The power of collaboration made all the difference in Dominic’s journey.

Shaun Accardo, MD, orthopedic surgeon, and Rusty Sanchez, MD, plastic surgeon, worked together during Dominic’s surgery, using an osteocutaneous fibula flap for tibia reconstruction. Using this method to reconstruct a tibia is relatively uncommon for any age.

The tibia is the larger of the two bones in the lower leg, commonly known as the shinbone, and the fibula is the smaller bone located next to it on the outer side of the leg.

Dr. Accardo removed a portion of Dominic’s tibia while Dr. Sanchez harvested skin and a bone flap from the other side of his leg.

“You’re taking another bone with its blood supply and using it to reconstruct a large piece of the bone you’re removing,” Dr. Sanchez says. “Thankfully this tumor was not within the growth plate. The bone that we transferred is healthy and growing, forming a new tibia.”

A certified registered nurse anesthetist (CRNA) remained on call in the first 72 hours after Dominic’s surgery. Because there’s a risk that the flap might fail, the team had to be ready to go back into the operating room at a moment’s notice.

Dominic did not require further surgery or a return to the OR, and his doctors have been very pleased with how he has healed.

“It’s a good example of multidisciplinary care,” Dr. Sanchez says. “You have orthopedics and plastic surgery working together to come up with a unique solution for a complicated problem.”

Our Lady of the Lake Health with our children’s hospital has the resources needed to treat cases like Dominic’s, providing the gold standard of care close to home.

Grateful for Exceptional Care

The family has nothing but praise for our children’s hospital team.

“All the nurses, doctors and the housekeeping staff – everyone in that hospital has made the situation easier on us,” Heather says. “We are so grateful that we have this resource in Baton Rouge. We’ve been so blessed.”

Child Life made a big difference in the family’s experience. Child Life specialists are specially trained to help children and their families cope with the stress and anxiety that comes with being hospitalized.

“Child Life is amazing,” Heather says. “Dominic is a very closed off little kid – he doesn’t really talk about his feelings. But they were able to get on his level and get him to open up and talk about things.”

Looking Ahead to Remission

“Dominic has been a trooper,” Heather says. “It’s amazing how resilient kids are. He’s blown everyone away with his attitude. He’s handled all of this better than any adult would in this situation. It’s just amazing.”

Post-surgery, Dominic is completing more rounds of chemo, and he is responding very well. Dominic should be cleared to get back to normal activities in August, including starting third grade.

“Of course, he’ll have to be a little more careful with his leg,” Heather says. “He loves baseball so I’m not sure – we’ll find some protective gear.”

Gianna, Dominic’s 2-year-old sister, is also looking forward to having her older brother healthy again.

Dominic is being honored as one of Our Lady of the Lake’s Geaux Heroes, which recognizes incredible stories of strength and resilience. He is being recognized May 16 at the LSU Baseball game against Ole Miss.

Learn more about the exceptional pediatric care we offer at Our Lady of the Lake Children’s Health as well as pediatric services throughout our health system.

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