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Surgery team's 'incessant battle' to try to save baby not enough

Published: Wednesday, March 13, 2013 10:19 a.m. CST

Pediatric surgeon Dr. Mark Slidell's pager beeped Monday afternoon, notifying him of a trauma case at Comer Children's Hospital.

It was a 6-month-old, 18-pound baby girl.

Bullets had pierced Jonylah Watkins' shoulder, groin and abdomen, tearing through her lung, diaphragm, liver and intestines. She was laboring to breathe and bleeding to death, Slidell said.

In an interview Tuesday with the Tribune, Slidell described how doctors, nurses and medical technicians scrambled over 17 hours struggling to save Jonylah from the gun violence that has gripped Chicago.

For the first half-hour, the medical team worked hurriedly to restore oxygen and blood back to Jonylah's body, Slidell said. They secured a breathing tube in her airway, gently pumping oxygen into her lungs, while also pushing replacement fluids and blood through IVs.

They then performed a chest and abdomen X-ray to assess her internal wounds before taking her to the operating room where surgeons, nurses and others labored to control the bleeding, the doctor said.

"The goal in that initial operation is to control the damage and stabilize the critically ill patient," Slidell said.

After a couple of hours, Jonylah was moved to the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit, where another team of nurses and doctors worked through the night and into Tuesday morning to stabilize her vitals.

As with many patients who have severe traumatic injuries, Jonylah's temperature had plummeted, and her blood had become acidic and was failing to clot. Those factors would have to be stabilized before doctors could safely perform additional surgeries needed to repair her injuries, Slidell said.

"It's called the triad of death," he said. "Basically when (these) three things go wrong, a patient does really badly."

Though the medical team continued to push fluids and blood products to help with the clotting, Jonylah continued to bleed internally, Slidell said. At one point, doctors reopened her abdomen to see if they could stop the bleeding, he said.

"I cannot even tell you how hard everyone worked that night," Slidell said.

But after many hours, Jonylah's heart, kidneys and other organs began to fail, Slidell said.

"Doctors were having a harder and harder time keeping ahead of the blood loss and supporting her failing (organs)," Slidell said.

Jonylah's mother said she told doctors, "'I don't want my baby to suffer.'"

Jonylah was pronounced dead at 6 a.m. Tuesday.

"Her body basically couldn't survive the number of injuries and the extent of the injuries," Slidell said. "It's a tragedy that a beautiful little girl like this lost her life in this way."


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