When Zachary Kordik was born on Oct. 12, 2011, he weighed only 2 pounds, 10 ounces. Born at 27 weeks, his underdeveloped lungs started to fill with fluid, and doctors needed to operate on his heart within the week.
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It was the first surgery by Lurie doctors at Northwest Community since their partnership was established.
Today, Zachary turns 1 year old. His mom, Brynn, said that although his first year of life was scary and difficult, he is hitting development milestones and growing strong.
The Kordiks will celebrate Zachary's first birthday with family and friends this weekend, but they stopped at the hospital Thursday afternoon to share birthday cake and visit with the nurses and doctors who became a second family during Zachary's nine-week stay in the neonatal ICU.
"It's amazing to see how far he has progressed since that first day when he was so small and fragile," said Karen Lepucki, manager of the NICU. "He's a different boy and he's doing so wonderful."
Kordik brought photos of Zachary from his earliest days at the hospital, when he was on a ventilator for two weeks and she didn't get to hold him.
"The night it all happened I think I was in shock," said Brynn, 29, who lives in West Dundee with her husband, Scott, and their children, Zachary and Owen. "We didn't know if he would make it. It was just the scariest time of my life."
Those months are a stark contrast to Zachary on Thursday, crawling around the hospital floor and smiling at doctors and nurses who were moved to tears at seeing him so healthy.
Zachary was in the hospital for 62 days. The fact he was in Arlington Heights rather than downtown Chicago was critical for the family.
"Getting into the city would be so hard every day," Kordik said, especially with her other son, Owen, now 3.
Aside from the stress it can place on parents, moving a premature baby as sick as Zachary could be extremely dangerous, doctors said.
"At that gestation it's not safe to transfer babies. It's not just the procedure, but the whole process of moving them that can be dangerous," said Dr. Joel Fisher, a neonatologist who was in the room during Zachary's operation.
Fisher and the operating doctor, Hyde Russell, are on staff at Lurie Children's Hospital but work with Northwest Community on cases such as Zachary's, bringing their expertise to the suburbs.
In the past year a few similar surgeries have been done bedside at Northwest Community, also with successful results, Fisher said.
Lurie Children's Hospital has partnerships with several other hospitals in Chicago and the suburbs, including Northwestern Lake Forest Hospital, Sherman Health in Elgin and West Suburban Medical Center in Oak Park.
Although Zachary was the first patient to undergo this surgery bedside at Northwest Community Hospital -- a fact nurses said they didn't tell the Kordiks about until afterward -- Fisher said months of training and planning went into the preparation.
For Zachary's family that was time well spent.
"I believe that if we weren't here at this hospital, we wouldn't be here with such a positive outcome," Brynn said.
"Miracles do happen, with a team. We'll be forever grateful."