Like many kids his age, 3-year-old Emmanuel Peniche had started potty training. During one potty session, though, something went very wrong. Emmanuel started crying — apparently in pain — and then passed out. Afraid, his parents, Felipe and Jetzabel, rushed him to a nearby hospital. The facility was not equipped to treat him, so he was transferred to Huntington Hospital for more advanced care.

Here, he was diagnosed with a congenital diaphragmatic hernia: When Emmanuel was growing in the womb, his diaphragm (a thin sheet that separates the abdomen from the chest) did not close properly. As a result, his intestine, colon and spleen had been pushed up into his chest. He would need surgery to treat this rare birth defect, which is often fatal without intervention.

Steve Chen, MD, medical director of pediatric surgery, performed the operation — carefully moving delicate organs to their correct places and closing the hole in the little boy’s diaphragm. Emmanuel awoke with a repaired diaphragm — and an overjoyed family.

“I think one of the things that makes the hospital so amazing is that there’s so much support,” Jetzabel says, as she recalls the family’s experience. “Our son was in good hands.”

Today, Emmanuel is a happy 7-year-old who loves going to Disneyland and playing soccer with his older brother and twin sister. “The day of the operation was our worst day … and our best day,” says Felipe. “It was hard, but it was worth it just to see him getting back to a regular life. Huntington Hospital saved my son, and changed our lives.”

Watch Emmanuel’s parents share their story.

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