Ian McDonagh: Full of Heart

This is an archived article and the information in the article may be outdated. Please look at the time stamp on the story to see when it was last updated.

On all accounts, Ian McDonagh appears a typical nine-year-old boy. He enjoys playing with Legos, can school anyone in a video game challenge, and matches the energy of his two-year-old dog, Ruby.

Today, you would never know that Ian’s entry into this world was dramatic enough to inspire a plot line on ABC’s hit show, Grey’s Anatomy.

It all started when Ian’s mother Nannette was 20 weeks pregnant and went in for what she thought was a routine ultra sound.

“The technicians after a little bit left and then like the head guy came in and then we were like, ‘Okay, something’s up,'” she says.

Doctors told Nannette Ian had Hypoplastic Left Heart Syndrome, a condition that prevents the left side of the heart from fully developing. They eventually learned he also had an intact atrial septum which meant his heart did not have a hole to carry oxygen-rich blood from one side of his heart to the other. The combination of conditions is both rare and deadly, affecting only 1% of fetuses. From that point on, the McDonagh’s and their team of doctors were on a mission to save Ian’s life.

When a experimental procedure in Boston didn’t work, Ian’s team of doctors made an unprecedented decision. Nannette needed to deliver him in the catheterization lab at Advocate Children’s Hospital.

“It has never been done before but we knew that even seconds counted in Ian’s case,” Alexander Javois, Director of Pediatric Catherization Lab, says.

The day of Ian’s birth, a team of nearly 40 doctors waited in an accompanying room waiting to perform the life-saving procedure during which they planned to thread a wire through Ian’s umbilical cord to create a hole in his heart to allow blood flow. Within 50 minutes of life, Dr. Javois and the team of doctors successfully completed the surgery.

“There’s nothing you can do to say thank you for saving my baby’s life,” Nannette says. “It wouldn’t be enough. They consider like every child they work with as part of their family.”

In April, Grey’s Anatomy aired an episode based on the story of Ian’s birth. Though Nannette did not work with Grey’s Anatomy directly, she says she enjoyed seeing Dr. Javois’ work on the screen.

“It was just fun,” she says. “I think it’s good … to be shown that if your baby does have both of these conditions it’s not the end.”


For more information on Ian’s heart conditions, Advocate Children’s Hospital, or to see the Grey’s Anatomy Episode, please visit the websites below:






Latest News

More News