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Nick Koutrelakos, M.D. (center) with his family.
William Nicholas Koutrelakos (Nick) was a sophomore and a standout varsity soccer player at Marriotts Ridge High School, when an ordinary soccer game took a life-threatening turn. His father Nick Koutrelakos, M.D., an HCGH medical oncologist, describes what happened: “It was late in the game against Oakland Mills, and my son took a shot to the belly and went down. Nick never goes down, so I knew he had been hit hard. Marriotts Ridge won the match shortly thereafter, but my son did not run out with his teammates.” Dr. Koutrelakos knew something was wrong, and, when he approached his son, his fears were confirmed. “He said, ‘Dad, something is wrong. I was hit hard, and I have this bad pain in my left shoulder.’ I told him right then he must’ve ruptured his spleen.”
Immediately, Nick’s mother, Susan Lancelotta, also a physician, called 9-1-1 and he was taken to the HCGH Pediatric Emergency Department. Although Nick didn’t appear very sick on the ride over, within minutes of arrival, his condition quickly deteriorated. He was faint and losing blood, his blood pressure dropped, and his hematocrit was low. The staff gave him blood transfusions. When they realized he wasn’t stable enough to transport to a trauma center, they made plans to operate. “He was fading,” Koutrelakos says. “I told him, ‘You have to hold on, I promise you will survive this.’” Surgeon Susan Behen, M.D. was called in and she called Deepak Merchant, M.D. to assist in the surgery.
Nick continued to receive blood transfusions as surgeons worked to save his spleen. They realized that Nick’s spleen was “boggy,” and tests were ordered to determine if he had mononucleosis – a disease that primarily affects adolescents and young adults and leaves the spleen susceptible to injuries. The surgeons worked quickly to repair the lacerations and, despite complications, were able to save it. “The surgery was a work of art between the two of them,”
Dr. Koutrelakos says. “They got the work done, they saved his life.”
After the surgery, Nick spent several days in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) – one of the first kids his age to stay there. His parents took turns sleeping in Nick’s room, and, after he was stable, he was moved to the pediatric inpatient unit for two days, where Nurse Eva Von Bernstorff took great care of him. Test results confirmed mononucleosis, and Nick faced three more weeks of recovery at home.
Dr. Koutrelakos knows they were lucky. “He would’ve died if someone hadn’t recognized the symptoms so quickly. Sometimes, parents aren’t sure with that kind of injury and they take their child home and put them to bed and that’s it. The child doesn’t wake up.”
Today, Nick is a junior at the University of Maryland majoring in supply chain management and marketing. His parents have made adjustments. Now at least one of them is in town for every high school game for their youngest child. And, while they realize they can’t control every situation, they know that they can count on HCGH in an emergency. “The hospital does a great job recognizing the emergency and mobilizing the resources needed. Resources were immediately available when we needed them. There is not another community hospital around that can do what this hospital can do. The people here are really well trained; they live in the community, and they work in the community.”
Two Saves in Two Generations…
On Dec. 17, 2012, Nick Koutrelakos, M.D. received a call from his father who told him his mother, Mary Koutrelakos (or Yiayia, Greek for Grandmother, as the family calls her), wasn’t feeling well. Dr. Koutrelakos told him to call 9-1-1. Mrs. Koutrelakos arrived at Howard County General Hospital, short of breath. “Within 30 minutes of arriving, she had a heart attack, literally right in front of the doctor,” said Dr. Koutrelakos.
“Physicians performed CPR and intubated her, and Jeff Trost, M.D. performed a catheterization of her heart.” It showed no blockages, and it was determined that her heart attack was caused by a disruption in her heart rhythm.
After a few days of observation in the special care unit, Eric Schwartz, M.D. installed a pacemaker. After a few more days of recovery, she was released from the hospital. Today, she is back to driving and her regular activities. Dr. Koutrelakos says, “Here are two situations where the hospital saved two generations of my family.”