At just two months old, Mikey Pizzo of Ventura, California, suddenly stopped breathing while in his baby carrier. His mom, Christina, was dropping their daughter off at school at the time and received vital help from another parent who happened to be a paramedic and administered infant CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation).
Mikey was fortunate to have access to nearby Ventura County Medical Center (VCMC), the only pediatric intensive care unit (PICU) in the community, where he began receiving lifesaving care from Jesse Wyatt, M.D., pediatric intensivist and medical director at Pediatrix® Critical Care of California, and team.
When Mikey arrived at VCMC, he had been in full cardiac arrest for nearly 45 minutes. He began to show initial signs of a heartbeat, and while the amount of time that had passed without brain activity was as severe as it could be, Dr. Wyatt worked relentlessly to treat the initial trauma and get Mikey stabilized.
"We quickly implemented strict neuroprotective measures to prevent any cerebral edema and further neurological injury,” said Dr. Wyatt. “These therapies included targeted cooling measures. This treatment modality focuses on preventing fever and attempting to keep the body at lower temperatures. By lowering the body temperature, we are slowing down the metabolic activity of the brain and allowing the brain to rest during this critical period. Every second counts when trying to preserve brain function."
Simultaneously, Dr. Wyatt swiftly arranged a quick transfer to the Children’s Hospital Los Angeles (CHLA), which was integral to Mikey’s long-term care. There, he was on life support for about a week and then spent a month in the PICU and neonatal intensive care unit.
“The thing that was really lifechanging was that Dr. Wyatt was able to simultaneously triage what to do to stabilize Mikey while immediately working on the next steps and securing the medevac and a bed at CHLA right away,” said Mikey’s dad, Michael. “As soon as we got there, he was trying to figure out the next steps. I think the combination of the good CPR at the school and then having Dr. Wyatt be able to do everything he did was really what gave Mikey the chance that he had.”
For cases like Mikey’s, the odds of even making it to the hospital and surviving is very low. Prior to the VCMC PICU opening, patients had to make an hourlong drive to CHLA, which could oftentimes be a matter of life or death for children like Mikey.
“Dr. Wyatt really didn’t know at all what had caused this, and he just did such a good job of running through every scenario,” said Michael. “All the doctors at CHLA attributed the fact that we were even there to Dr. Wyatt because the early treatment was so good. To be able to run through the litany of things that it could have been and to do that while supporting us emotionally, being able to coordinate his team and immediately thinking of the next steps – trying to get all that logistically coordinated while being able to treat him I thought was just very impressive.”
While he suffers from cerebral palsy and other debilitating health issues, Mikey’s recovery has been remarkable so far. He recently turned 4 and started school. He continues to exceed expectations as he continually undergoes traditional rehabilitation and non-traditional therapy, including stem cell therapy, neuro-acupuncture, brain mapping and light therapy.
“It’s been pretty amazing to see how far he’s come so far, and we’re constantly trying new things to figure out what works and what doesn’t work,” said Michael. “The way we look at is, it’s a miracle that he’s here and we have to try everything we can.”
The Pizzo’s are very active in a global social media group for brain injury families, and they recently launched a website that not only shares Mikey’s journey but serves as an invaluable resource of medical knowledge and innovative therapy options to help guide other families experiencing similar traumas.
“It was an honor to care for Mikey, and I’m continuously amazed by his ongoing recovery,” said Dr. Wyatt. “The Pizzo’s and I stay in touch, and they continue to lean on me for support and share his progress with me, which is very special. I know that with the unending support of his family, Mikey will continue to do great things.”
The Pizzo’s share their story with ABC Los Angeles: