Long Island girl, 9, treated at Cohen’s for brain hemorrhage

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When 9-year-old Katie Melendez woke up at her aunt’s Forest Hills home at 3 in the morning May 15 with a severe headache, her condition worsened to the point that she was in a coma.

It turned out Katie, who lives in Deer Park, L.I., had suffered a massive brain hemorrhage and had to undergo surgery at Cohen Children’s Medical Center that in part involved removing half of her skull and putting it in-between her skin and her abdomen as her brain was swelling.

“It’s much safer than putting it in a freezer,” said Dr. Mark Mittler, chief of critical care at Cohen’s and Katie’s physician, noting that the area is sterile. “We were able to alleviate the pressure in Katie’s brain.”

Katie was originally taken to North Shore University Hospital at Forest Hills, but was transferred to Cohen’s when her condition worsened.

“She was clearly in dire straits,” Mittler said, with doctors having to insert a breathing tube and other tubes in her brain to lower the pressure.

A day after Katie’s symptoms surfaced, doctors at Cohen’s used a new portable CT scan that they first trained on the day before to diagnose the 9-year-old with arteriovenous malformation — a congenital, life-threatening condition that occurs because of pressure and damage to the brain’s blood vessel tissue.

As the pressure in Katie’s brain lessened, she was taken back to an operating room for surgery to put half her skull back in place and she was weaned off tubes and a breathing machine, Mittler said.

The procedure also sealed off the blood vessels to prevent further bleeding and a brain lesion was removed.

Katie and her parents broke down in tears as they retold her story during a news conference last Thursday at Cohen’s.

“To say that this was the most terrifying ordeal in our lives is an understate­ment,” said Katie’s mother, Linda Melendez. “I truly believed [the doctors] saved her life. It’s been such a journey, but I’m so grateful it started here.”

Katie has no recollection of her stay at Cohen’s, as she was in a coma for most of the time she was in the New Hyde Park hospital, at 269-01 76th Ave., but gave Mittler a handmade card thanking him “for fixing my brain” during the news conference.

Her father, Tony Melendez, said Katie is doing well, finishing inpatient rehab a week after her stay at Cohen’s.

Dr. Arthur Klein, executive director and chief of staff at Cohen’s, said Katie’s story “is about celebrating the victory in the life of a child.”

Reach reporter Howard Koplowitz by e-mail at or by phone at 718-260-4573.

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