Health Headlines: Smallest baby to survive a separated esophagus

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Published: Apr. 28, 2023 at 7:45 AM CDT
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DENVER, Colo. (Ivanhoe Newswire) – Each week in the U.S., almost 70,000 babies are born prematurely. That means the baby was born before 37 weeks, full term is 40 weeks. Many times, these babies face breathing and eating problems. But what happens if the baby is born at just 23 weeks, almost half of what is considered a healthy pregnancy?

Little Harper Jacobo has come a long way. She and her twin sister Gabriella were born prematurely at just 23 weeks, weighing less than a third of a pound.

“They fit in the palms of my hand. They were very, very tiny. I mean, very small,” their mother Kayla Hatch remembers.

While both girls were small, it was Harper who was given just a one percent chance of survival when she was born. But that wasn’t the only obstacle little Harper faced.

Chief of Pediatric Surgery at the Rocky Mountain Hospital for Children, Dr. Steven Rothenberg says, “The two ends of her esophagus were separated by quite a bit. So, basically, means that she could not swallow whatsoever.”

The two ends were separated by seven centimeters.

Dr. Rothenberg led a team at Rocky Mountain Hospital for Children, performing three lifesaving surgeries on Harper. The first one, stretching the two ends to try to bring them together.

“We got the two ends almost together, but there was still about, maybe a one-inch gap between the two ends,” Dr. Rothenberg explains.

Then, he took part of Harper’s chest wall to create a Band-Aid between the two ends, closing the gap to a half an inch, then he used magnets to finally bring the ends together.

Dr. Rothenberg further explains, “We put one magnet down her mouth and into the upper part of her esophagus, we put the other magnet through her gastrostomy tube. What happened over the next few days, the magnets gradually attracted to each other.”

The magnets were eventually removed by pulling them up through Harper’s mouth, no additional surgery was required. And although she is delayed, doctors believe Harper will be able to grow up and eat and swallow like any other child. Dr. Rothenberg had to get special FDA permission to use the magnets for this purpose. For Harper, they were a lifesaver.

Contributors to this news report include Marsha Lewis, Producer; Roque Correa, Videographer & Editor.