DelaneySaving Delaney—Turning a Near Disaster into a Story of Hope

In May, the Saslav and DeLuigi families were enjoying a happy reunion by the pool. The old college friends were living in the same area for the first time since graduation, so they gathered for a day of fun.  But the reunion turned into a nightmare when 3-year-old Delaney Saslav nearly drowned.

“We called for everyone to get out of the pool for a while,” Delaney’s mom Jill Saslav explains. “But Delaney was upset, snuck back to the pool and fell in.”  The De Luigi’s daughter, 5-year-old Cyan, saw the accident and ran for help.  Beata De Luigi jumped in and pulled Delaney out of the water, and her husband Jason De Luigi administered CPR.

Arthur “Jason” DeLuigi, DO, is the director of Sports Medicine at MedStar NRH. “I’ve never been happier to have a doctor for a good friend,” a very grateful Jill says.

While he rushed toward Delaney, Dr. DeLuigi says, “There were so many thoughts and emotions going through my mind, but I kept saying to myself that she has to be okay, that we will be able to get her to respond.  I began CPR and rescue breathing.  Then Delaney’s dad Andy took over rescue breathing between my CPR compression sets.  When the ambulance came, they put on the cardiac monitors and we knew we had gotten her heart beating again.”  

“The doctors in the ER said that Delaney was alive because someone had performed the right kind of resuscitation,’ Jill says.  “There is no question in my mind that the DeLuigi family saved her life.”

After weeks in intensive care, Delaney was ready for rehabilitation.  And Dr. DeLuigi worked behind the scenes to get her the best.  “We knew nothing about rehab and what to do next,” Jill adds.  “But Jason took care of it for us, and I’m so grateful that we came to MedStar NRH. 

“For weeks while Delaney was in the ICU, I felt so separated from my child. I had to leave her well-being to other people. But when I came here, I felt like a mom again.  I got to hold Delaney for the first time. The MedStar NRH team includes my husband and me in everything, and encourages us to be a part of the process. It’s like family.”

When Delaney arrived at the National Center for Children’s Rehabilitation (NCCR) at MedStar NRH she wasn’t able to sit up or speak. Her arms were in spasm, and bent across her chest.  A month later, she was sitting up, learning to stand and beginning to talk.  “The first thing she said was ‘mom’ and it was a wonderful moment,” says Jill. 

Jill or Andrew spend nights at NCCR with Delaney,, who celebrated her fourth birthday with a party in the hospital.  “Our son Ian celebrated his first birthday here, as well.  Everything at the hospital focuses on helping the family work together to get your child well and back home. There is such great support from the therapists, doctors and nurses—and the other families with kids in the hospital. Even the hospital president John Rockwood stops by to see how we are doing,” she adds.

When MedStar’s Sara Regis, RN, came for a visit and presented Delaney with a Brain Bag, Delaney was thrilled.  The Brain Bag, filled with useful and fun tools to jumpstart recovery, is given to every patient with a brain injury at MedStar NRH. “Sara told us about her own son who had a brain injury and recovered, which made us feel hopeful. And the bag was filled with such amazing things.  It was like Christmas for Delaney!”

The white board helped the Saslavs communicate with their daughter before she had words, and the brush and mirror were a big hit.  “But the best thing is the heart shaped purple pillow.  She loves hearts—she calls them her ‘happy hearts’—purple is her favorite color and she sleeps with it every night.”

Jill and Andrew Saslav know that recovery is a long-term process, but they are so encouraged by Delaney’s progress. For Dr. DeLuigi, who faithfully stops by most mornings to give Delaney a hug, her recovery is a wonderful sight to see.  “It’s so amazing to see how far she has come since that tragic day—to see the transformation of a child on a ventilator to the delightful, little girl playing with the therapists.”