UNMC faculty make a difference in staff member's life

by Vicky Cerino, UNMC public relations | February 23, 2018

Image with caption: Grandson Abel and UNMC's Jolene Wees

Grandson Abel and UNMC's Jolene Wees

UNMC Department of Family Medicine staff member Jolene Wees and her family got to know some of the talented and caring health professionals at UNMC and Children's Hospital & Medical Center when her grandson, Abel Protiva, was born with Hypoplastic Left Heart Syndrome. The syndrome caused him to be born with half of a heart.

Now retired OB-GYN UNMC physician, Paul Tomich, M.D., found the defect during Wees' daughter's 20-week pregnancy check at the Olson Center for Women's Health.

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James Hammel, M.D., was at Children's Hospital & Medical Center and put Abel on ECMO (extracorporeal membrane oxygenation) for heart and lung support the night he coded.
"We thought it was a regular check-up and to find out the baby's gender," Wees said.

After the ultrasound, Dr. Tomich had to tell Wendy Wees the sad news.

Olson Center's Teresa Berg, M.D., a high-risk OB-GYN, took over care of Wendy. Abel was born Jan. 24, 2017.

"Thanks to Dr. Berg, Wendy got to have a C-section at the Fetal Care Center at Children's Hospital, right down the hall from Children's Hospital's neonatal intensive care unit," Wees said.

She said after Abel's first surgery and a month-long stay, he was released.

"We were thinking all was good," Wees said. "But on March 22, he went in for an echocardiogram and he was in heart failure. The size of his heart was taking up both rib cages. He went downhill and had a seizure, stroke and then he coded.

"Thankfully, James Hammel, M.D., was at Children's the night Abel coded. He immediately put him on ECMO (extracorporeal membrane oxygenation) for heart and lung support, and saved Abel," she said.

After eight days, Abel was taken off ECMO and then waited 27 days for a heart transplant. The family vividly remembers the day they learned a heart was available. Abel was 4-months-old.

In January, Abel turned 1 and, only a few weeks later, was the prince of the 2018 Heart and Stroke Ball.

Abel's care team included UNMC/Children's cardiothoracic surgeons Dr. Hammel, Kim Duncan, M.D., and Ali Ibrahimiye, M.D.; Robert Spicer, M.D., pediatric cardiologist; and Barbara Roessner, a physician assistant and transplant coordinator at Children's.

"Thanks to the unbelievable team, our prayers were answered," Wees said. "Abel is with us today."


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Ileana Fortune
February 23, 2018 at 2:57 PM

What a handsome Prince!!! What a remarkable story and gift of life!

Kara M. Smith
February 23, 2018 at 12:59 PM

My family is forever grateful for the care provided by many of the physicians in this article. I especially remember Dr. Tomich's ability to put me at ease during a stressful pregnancy. Our daughter Marian had open-heart surgery for Tetralogy of Fallot at 10 weeks by Dr. Hammel and his team. We are very lucky to have such skilled and compassionate physicians at UNMC and Children's.

February 23, 2018 at 12:56 PM

Amazing journey, have a great life Able!!

Judi Walker
February 23, 2018 at 12:11 PM

My 8 year old grandson is a thriving HLHS survivor. Our family will be forever thankful to Drs Hamel, Delaney, Spicer and the amazing team of care givers at Children's Hospital. And, after 8 years of patiently waiting, he will be a BIG BROTHER in May.

Audrey Paulman
February 23, 2018 at 11:05 AM

And thank you, Jolene, for the work you do making a difference in the UNMC faculty and students' lives every day.

Jacque Swirzinski
February 23, 2018 at 10:08 AM

How miraculous! It is amazing to see physicians from UNMC & Methodist/Children's working together to better the outcome for the children in Nebraska & the whole region. What a blessing!

Colby Barak
February 23, 2018 at 8:14 AM

Kim Duncan saved my son almost 19 years ago, I know the joy and relief of watching a child who could have slipped away grow into a good, kind man. Enjoy Abel.

Patty Davis
February 23, 2018 at 7:07 AM

What a heartwarming story! It's stories like this that make me so proud to be a part of UNMC and Pediatrics!