Irish American doctor saves baby born with brain outside his head
Miracle Boston team saves Dominic Pio who had 'exquisitely rare' diagnosis
A plastics and craniofacial surgeon saved the life of an amazing child born with part of his brain growing down through the root of his mouth and out through his face.
Although children who are diagnosed during pregnancy are often terminated, Doctor John Meara was able to assure the parents of Dominic Pio Gundrum that their “exquisitely rare” child was “going to be OK.”
When Mary Gundrum, from Wisconsin, was 20 weeks pregnant, her ultrasound revealed she was having a boy. When she and the doctor looked at the screen they saw something in front of the child’s face.
The fetus had an encephalocele, which means part of his brain was exposed, covered in skin, outside his head. In his case his brain was growing down the roof of his mouth and out of his face.
After some daunting research Mary and her husband, Mark, found Meara at the Boston Children’s Hospital. They told the Boston Globe, they “were just blown away” by the work he had done on a Haitian baby in 2008.
They sent the Boston doctor their ultrasound. The next day he phoned to say, “I want you to know it’s going to be OK.”
Meara also diagnosed their baby with something he’d never seen before.
He told the Globe, “I looked at the images, and I thought it was a very rare combination of two diagnoses.
“There was the encephalocele, and there was the Tessier facial cleft, in which the two halves of his head and face never came together.”
He called this kind of diagnoses “exquisitely rare” and said that most parents who receive this prenatal diagnosis choose to terminate the pregnancy. Meara estimated that a baby like Dominic is only born in North America every five to ten years.
Initially the Gundrum family was told that their child might not make it to birth or could die within hours of birth. However the devout Catholics, who are parents of seven other children, decided to continue with the pregnancy.
Mary (40) said, “We did a lot of soul-searching.
“I was thinking, ‘That’s my child. It’s that simple. I’m not going to take the life of my child.’”
Meara finally gave them hope.
On June 18 2012 Dominic Pio Gundrum was born at Froedtert Memorial Hospital in Milwaukee. He weighed eight pounds and seemed healthy. However, as Meara had diagnosed, he had frontonasal-dysplasia, meaning the two halves of his head had never fused.
That wasn’t the only problem. His optic nerves were underdeveloped, he was missing the part of the brain which connects the left and right cerebral hemispheres. Also doctors could not locate a pituitary gland.
At four months Dominic was brought to Boston for a consultation with Meara and his colleague, Mark Proctor, a neurosurgeon. A month later they performed a seven-hour operation, along with their team. They removed the encephalocele, closed the skull, repaired the Tessier cleft, and brought the baby’s facial features together.
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