Brian Demmerle left work early — Mets tickets in hand — to spend time with his 3-year-old son. He wound up helping save the life of his infant son instead.
Mr. Demmerle, 35, works in accounting during the week and in hotel management on weekends. Both jobs require keen observation skills. On Sunday, October 4, 2015, his detective prowess was put to the test when he noticed his son Christopher didn’t seem like himself.
“You’re probably thinking, ‘What can a parent really notice about their 12-day-old infant?’ But when you analyze every day like I do, reading people becomes ingrained,” Mr. Demmerle said. “When I arrived home to pick up my 3-year-old son Nicholas for the game, I noticed Christopher was moving around and crying loudly. His left eye deviated toward the left and his skin quickly paled. I immediately dialed 911.”
The First and Only Place
Paramedics arrived and asked Mr. Demmerle and his wife, Cathleen, which hospital they preferred. The couple chose Cohen Children’s Medical Center, since Nicholas had spent time in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU).
“Cohen Children’s was the first and only place that came to mind, even though it wasn’t the closest,” Mr. Demmerle said. “As an infant, Nicholas spent a few hours in their NICU for observation, so we knew they had the doctors on staff to handle major pediatric conditions. Thankfully, the paramedic who took Christopher’s vitals and was in the ambulance with us agreed.”
Choosing Cohen Children’s saved Christopher’s life.
A Serious Surgery
“Christopher arrived at our Emergency Department and received a computed tomography [CT] scan,” said Mark Mittler, MD, codirector of pediatric neurosurgery at Cohen Children’s. “The results showed a huge blood clot in the cerebellum, or back portion of his brain. These can be extremely dangerous, because a large blood clot in a small area increases pressure on the surrounding tissue.” The increased pressure caused a dangerous drop in Christopher’s heart rate. He needed to be moved quickly to an operating room.
“I surgically removed the blood clot and then found an abnormal blood vessel that created a high blood flow state prone to bleeding,” Dr. Mittler said. “We controlled the bleeding and Christopher went home a few days later.”
The Hidden Culprit
Christopher’s blood clot came from an arteriovenous malformation (AVM) — abnormal blood vessels that remain unknown until causing a hemorrhage or a seizure, according to Dr. Mittler.
“Because Christopher was so young, he would have had no opportunity to be diagnosed with this AVM before it hemorrhaged,” he said. “I’ve seen many cases of hemorrhage due to structural abnormalities in the brain, but for such a young patient, it’s unusual to need to do an operation for a blood clot within the brain itself.”
Dr. Mittler sees up to 20 AVM cases a year. Christopher is among the youngest patients he has treated.
Wealth of Support
It may not have been the Mets’ starting lineup, but team effort led to all the right decisions from start to finish. Mr. Demmerle can still easily and enthusiastically rattle off the first names of the nurses — Laura, Kaytlyn and Marcy — whose assistance and support in the NICU were crucial.
Today, Christopher is in good health. As for that Mets game? Mr. Demmerle still has the tickets.
“I left work early to attend a game, and those minutes ended up being critical,” Mr. Demmerle said. “When we first visited Dr. Mittler’s office after surgery, he put us in a room full of Mets photography, so I’d say we’re all fans.”
Above all, the Demmerles are fans of the Cohen Children’s team. “We could never thank and praise Dr. Mittler and every medical professional at Cohen Children’s enough for all they have done and continue to do,” Mr. Demmerle said. “I hope our story echoes throughout the community, giving confidence and hope to parents whose children need medical help.”