Matthew’s Story: Healing in the Surgical NICU

babies surgeryGrace Wu beams as she watches her son Matthew smiling and happy after enjoying his bottle.

“It’s good to see him so happy and active,” she says. “That he could do that makes me very, very happy.”

It’s a marked change from the days following Matthew’s birth almost four months ago.

As a newborn, he was diagnosed with volvulus, a condition wherein the intestine is twisted and can ultimately cut off blood circulation. Symptoms of volvulus include a distended stomach and intolerance to feeding, which Matthew exhibited.

The baby was quickly transferred to CHOC Children’s for emergency surgery at just three days old. CHOC surgeon Dr. Saeed-Ur-Rehman Awan repaired the malformation by performing an ileostomy, wherein the intestine is brought outside the body.

Next, Matthew needed time to heal his organs. He spent the next three months recovering in CHOC’s Surgical Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, a special part of the hospital’s main NICU dedicated to the care of babies who need surgery.

There, Matthew was under the care of a multidisciplinary team that included Dr. Irfan Ahmad, a CHOC neonatologist and co-director of the surgical NICU, and many other clinicians.

In the unit, the team cares for patients jointly, discussing the cases of children like Matthew as a group and forming a treatment plan that often calls for the expertise of other specialties at CHOC.

Another key component of the surgical NICU care team is parents and families. In Matthew’s case, his parents and grandfather, Jerry, partnered with clinicians on every stage of the baby’s care.

“Jerry was there every single day holding Matthew – even when he was crying,” Dr. Ahmad says. “He was a great member of the team, and he provided a lot of support.”

As Matthew began eating orally in small volumes as well as through intravenous methods, he geared up for a second surgery that would reattach his intestines. That procedure was performed just three months after the first.

After several more weeks of recovery, Matthew was able to eat fully from a bottle and was on his way home, much to the relief of his family.

“I was very worried because for the first time, I thought I might lose him,” Grace says. “I am very thankful for the care he’s received.”

More articles about CHOC’s Surgical NICU:

Testing for Birth Defects

Advances in medicine have allowed doctors to diagnose birth defects and genetic conditions before a baby is born.Testing_Birth_Defects

Pregnant women older than 35, those with a history of miscarriages or health problems, and women with a family history of certain disorders or birth defects are often tested for birth defects, says Dr. Irfan Ahmad, a CHOC Children’s neonatologist.

During pregnancy, mothers-to-be can undergo genetic counseling and genetic testing. Specially trained professionals can help prospective or expectant parents learn about genetic conditions they may face and their chances of having a child with a genetic condition. Genetic counseling and testing can also screen for diseases more common in certain ethnic groups. This helps people make informed decisions about family planning, testing and treatment.

Pregnant women can also have an ultrasound, an amniocentesis, or a blood test called a Quad Screen. Dr. Ahmad says these tests can help to diagnose birth defects including Down syndrome, heart conditions, neural tube defects such as spina bifida, and intestinal obstructions.

When diagnosed during pregnancy, some of these problems can be fixed or treated with surgery. Knowing ahead of time about a possible birth defect or other medical problem with the fetus allows the parent and their physicians to better prepare for the birth and treatments or surgery that may be needed, says Dr. Ahmad.

“You can also speak to a specialist, including a neonatologist and a surgeon, before the baby is born to offer counseling,” Dr. Ahmad says. “We can have a plan in place for when the baby is born and what we will do, so parents and physicians are prepared.”

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