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Mysterious plunge, miraculous revival

Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, December 21, 2010; B02

Kellen Googin is the boy who shouldn't have almost died. He's also the boy who, once he went into cardiac arrest, shouldn't have lived.

But here he is, a blond-headed almost-3-year-old prowling a conference room at Children's National Medical Center, methodically unscrewing a doorstop and then offering it to me for inspection.

"There's stuff we will never know," says Kellen's father, Nick. "All we can be happy for is that he's where he is today and go from here. . . . Everyone says he will catch up to his age group at some point. Nothing will stop him. All the doctors say is at some point he'll be running out with the other kids, kicking a ball."

The Anne Arundel County boy was born with a genetic disorder - partial deletion of chromosome 17 of the short arm - that made him quite familiar to the staff at Children's Hospital. He was treated by everyone from cardiology to ophthalmology. But it was a relatively minor procedure - to lower his undescended testicles and circumcise him - that brought Kellen to the hospital when he was 13 months old. Just after the anesthesia was administered, Kellen went into cardiac arrest.

A code blue was called and an ever-growing medical team fought to get his heart beating. It performed CPR for 19 minutes and shocked him seven times, using tiny defibrillator paddles no larger than dominoes. A normal hearth rhythm was established and Kellen made it through the night.

The question on everyone's mind: How long had his brain been deprived of oxygen?

Miraculously, an EEG the next day revealed full brain activity.

Says mom Michelle: "They looked at me and said, 'We have no explanation for the arrest and no explanation for him being alive.' "

She thinks she knows why Kellen is alive. "I truly believe that he's here today because of Zena," Michelle says. "I feel like she was our guardian angel that day. I feel like it was her mission to make sure that he lived. You'll never be able to convince me otherwise."

Zena is Zena Quezado, the Brazilian-born director of the hospital's Pain Neurobiology Laboratory. Quezado is an anesthesiologist. It was she who administered the drugs to put Kellen to sleep that day and who noticed his alarming fall toward death.

"It was a very humbling experience for me," Quezado says. "I've never had to tell a parent, 'We've had a complication.' . . . You can't get involved emotionally with every single patient, otherwise you couldn't do this job, but there are some patients that you just can't help it."

Kellen is a bit of a mystery. After he was stabilized - and after he survived another scare a week later when his throat swelled shut after his breathing tube was removed - doctors tried to figure out what had happened. They have been unable to pinpoint the exact cause of the frightening episode but think it was a combination of Kellen's special heart, the anesthesia drugs and a viral illness. "This is something that is very, very rare," Quezado says.

Anesthesiologists typically see their patients only when they enter sleep and awaken from it. Not Quezado.

"When Kellen was in the [Pediatric Intensive Care Unit], Zena called me every day," Michelle says. "She used to watch the monitor from home. I remember Zena calling in and saying, 'I need somebody to look at that.' "

Quezado hoists Kellen onto her lap. "I told Michelle and Nick, Kellen is a very special patient for me," she says.

He's the boy who shouldn't have lived but did.

Helping others

Please help ensure other children can receive the same care as Kellen. To make a tax-deductible donation to our annual fundraising campaign, send a check or money order (payable to "Children's Hospital") to Washington Post Campaign, P.O. Box 17390, Baltimore, Md. 21297-1390. To donate online with a credit card, go to www.washingtonpost.com/childrenshospital or call 301-565-8501.

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