EDITOR’S NOTE: The Forgione name in the coast-to-coast culinary world is exemplary, and Bryan Forgione is keeping the legend alive with his executive chef position at world-famous TV “Cake Boss” Buddy Valastro’s restaurant in the Palazzo. Remarkable is a word that sums up Bryan’s kitchen creations and masterful menus but remarkable is also the only word to describe his experience as an expectant father dealing with the serious heart issues of a new born baby. Here’s his very personal story.
When Robin invited me to write something special for his Celebrity Insider column I was not sure what I was going to talk about. Maybe my life working in the kitchen or how I considered becoming an alligator wrestler (true), or just something completely random (as if the former was not random enough)?
However, I decided to share a very personal experience I had with doctors and nurses who work so hard here in Las Vegas. Not just for the sake of sharing but really to show my deep gratitude and shine a light on the people who made such an impact on my family and so many others day in and day out.
It was just myself, my wife, Piper, and our two teenage boys. And being that the boys would be out of the house in four years, we were coming up with our plans for the future. Well, a wise friend once told me: “If you wanna make God laugh, tell him your plans!”
It was exactly this time of the year when we found out the surprising but amazing news that after 14 years, yes 14 years, we were being blessed with another little rug rat! We were doing it right for so long, how the hell did this happen? I’m a firm believer in “everything happens for a reason,” but it was exciting and scary at the same time.
We had to go through the whole emotional process of it all. It was 14 years since we had had an infant. Do I even remember how to do that? Is the house prepared? Holy, moley: We need to buy a lot of stuff! Never was there a concern that there would be any other focus beyond that.
It was my wife’s OBGYN that suggested getting everything checked out due to being over 35 — standard procedure. We weren’t worried about it, the day she went to take the test I actually forgot that she was going; I was so consumed with work (guilty of being a typical guy).
So the phone rang a few hours later and Piper was on the other end. She was so scared and in shock that I couldn’t make out what she was telling me. Was it a car accident? Are you in trouble? Death in the family? These are all the thoughts that were racing in my head. And then she told me that there was something wrong with the baby’s heart.
Now, like I said up until the point our concerns were typical of, I guess, anyone getting ready for a baby. What color should we paint the room? What are strollers like this day in age? The fun stuff. At that moment, all that was out the door. You never think it’s going to be you who gets that news. It (the heart condition) was completely foreign to us. We knew nothing about it, which was the scariest part.
After calming down and processing the initial news, we agreed that whatever the situation turned out to be, we would handle it. We would do our research, educate ourselves and make the best choices for our boy.
So the day came for our cardiologist appointment to see if they could diagnose exactly what was going on.
A lot of emotions that day, but we kept our heads up. We get into the sonogram room, and I have to say that I am amazed that anyone can decipher what is happening on those screens — gray and black blobs moving and changing constantly. I’m convinced they are just guessing half the time! But not this time, he knew exactly what he was seeing and was done in minutes. That was comforting in itself because of the experience and skill he must have to determine this so easily.
And then he gave us the news. Christopher has Tetralogy of Fallot, a heart defect where you have four main things affecting the heart. That was a tough thing to hear when you are hoping for something better and he knew that. He took the time to thoroughly explain it to us up and down. He was very patient with our 100 questions.
As upsetting as it was, it was so reassuring to have someone who obviously knew what he was talking about and was putting forth the effort and time to help educate us. He gave both of us a hug, too, and I really respect that because it showed compassion and caring, and when dealing with such a sensitive situation, that’s important.
We were instantly given all the next steps as if they already knew what our questions were: Who the surgeons and doctors are, what appointments we would need, where to go, etc. Now we had a focus and could at the very least start preparing.
The appointment at Sunrise Hospital was the big one; the one that made it all real. We met all the doctors and nurses, including a woman by the name of Maya. She has a unique energy about her and amazing personality that makes you feel like you’ve known her for years. Instant connection and comfort with her. She showed us everything: This is where you park. This is where you deliver the baby. The hall you walk down. The elevators you go up. The Starbucks around the corner, all the important stuff.
Then we got to the NICU, it was really amazing and helpful to see because this is where our baby would be spending the first days of life, it gave us an idea of what the conditions were and what we could expect. They were able to answer all of our questions and more. They have this picture book that was made by one of the families. It documented the progress of their daughter, who had heart surgery, all the way through recovery. You might think it would bother you but it was more comforting. We were like, “OK, we can do this.”
And. we did do it. That day came. The delivery took a lot longer than expected. Nothing some Pearl Jam music couldn’t take care of. True story by the way. I lit a candle (FYI: you are not supposed to have an open flame in a delivery room. With all the oxygen pumping you can blow it up. I found this out afterward)and put on the song “Alive” and our newest addition was born minutes later! And sure enough, I went down the hallway and up the elevators and we hit the Starbucks around the corner just like we were shown.
All the staff were amazing, knowledgeable and patient. We had tremendous support from friends and family that made the long days in the waiting room a bit easier.
It was about a week and then the day came for an attempt at a catheter procedure to place in a stent in the heart that could potentially hold off the planned initial surgery. The waiting is the hardest — hope and pray; hope and pray. Doc came in and we knew it wasn’t good news. The stent failed and moved further down where surgery was needed to remove it.
What an emotional roller coaster that was but we were feeling very confident and we knew he was in good hands. He was scheduled the next day for surgery and the whole thing went flawlessly. Not only was the initial repair done but the surgeon was also able to perform part of what would have been done during the second planned surgery. Everything happens for a reason, right!
Our surgeon was truly a unique and amazing individual. For someone who literally holds the hearts and lives of children in his hands on a regular basis, he is the coolest and most calm person. He has a unique gift to do the things he does and still be able to walk down the hallway catching M&M’s in his mouth!
The recovery was a long six weeks but we were so fortunate to be surrounded by such caring and professional people. They educated us through our whole stay about everything they were looking at, how the machines work, all the signs to look for, etc.
It’s tough to be in this type of situation where you have to see your baby boy hooked up to all the tubes and wires and machines; to know his delicate little heart literally is in someone else’s hands. It takes faith and it takes trust. And, it wasn’t blind faith. We had that trust from that first day we got the diagnosis, not because we had to but because of the efforts, the intelligence, the knowledge and care that everyone showed us.
From all the walk-throughs and appointments and people we met, we were given everything we needed to prepare for ourselves and for our son. It was truly a blessing. And the journey continues and we are confident with the road ahead knowing that we are in good hands.
This is a huge thank you to the cardiologists, surgeons, doctors, nurses and attendants who are responsible for people’s lives in Las Vegas every day. Much love to everyone who has been involved, you are all truly amazing individuals not just because of what you do but how you do it.