When Orange County resident Shannon gave birth to her daughter, Emerson, nothing could ruin the magic of having her first child. At 35-years-old, her pregnancy was considered high-risk, so Shannon took every measure to ensure she would deliver a healthy baby. “I was walking miles every day,” says Shannon. “Even though I was considered high-risk, there were no issues at all – it was the perfect pregnancy.”
A week after her birth, Emerson started projectile vomiting every time after being breastfed. “As a new mom, you don’t know what’s normal,” admits Shannon. “But we knew things weren’t right.”
Emerson’s pediatrician referred her to the Children’s Specialty Center in Irvine, affiliated with Miller Children’s & Women’s Hospital Long Beach, which provides sub-specialty care in an outpatient setting from the same pediatric specialists that work in the hospital. It was at the Children’s Specialty Center where a board-certified pediatric gastroenterologist, Robert Tran, M.D., was able to narrow down Emerson’s issue – what her pediatrician thought was a simple case of acid reflux turned out to be an anatomical issue that would possibly require surgery.
Knowing Emerson needed specialized care just for kids, Dr. Tran referred Emerson to Miller Children’s, a full-service children’s hospital with experts in more than 40 pediatric specialties to do more extensive tests not offered at the doctor’s office. A barium scan revealed an anatomical issue so serious that Emerson needed to be admitted into the hospital immediately. “I couldn’t make it out of the hospital without crying,” recalls Shannon.
Emerson was diagnosed with heterotaxy syndrome, a rare birth defect that created a congenital condition known as situs inversus. Situs inversus causes organs to be placed in reversed locations, meaning Emerson’s stomach and liver lived on opposite sides of her body. In addition, Emerson had a small webbing – known as a duodenal obstruction – in her intestine which prevented milk from passing naturally in her body.
Ten days after birth, Emerson was admitted into the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) at Miller Children’s. In the NICU, Emerson and her family were met by a variety of pediatric specialists readily available for Emerson. “Having all those specialties was probably the best part, and we knew the entire team,” says Shannon.
It was during these rounds where Shannon met Nam Nguyen, M.D., program director, Pediatric Surgical Center, Miller Children’s. “He made me laugh for the first time since learning about Emerson’s condition,” says Shannon. “I was overwhelmed with so many things, and he made me feel comfortable. He communicated with me at my level and explained everything.”
Dr. Nguyen explained that they’d be taking a minimally invasive approach to Emerson’s issues. Miller Children’s is one of only a handful of hospitals in the nation to provide the latest minimally invasive surgery, including single-incision laparoscopic surgery (SILS). The major advantage of this approach is that it provides virtually a “scarless” surgery, meaning patients recover with an almost invisible scar. Patients also generally experience less pain, blood loss and shorter recovery time than with open surgery.
Instead of using multiple key holes, this technique utilizes a single incision in a naturally hidden area, most commonly around the belly button. In single-incision surgery, the laparoscope and all of the instruments are inserted through one 1.5 – 2 cm incision within the navel.
During the surgery, Dr. Nguyen discovered more issues – Emerson’s pancreas had wrapped itself around her duodenum, the first portion of the small intestine. The condition, known as an annular pancreas, was suffocating her small intestine.
Using minimally invasive laparoscopic surgery, the surgery team was able to successfully release Emerson’s intestine blockage by bypassing her pancreas’ grip that was preventing her body from properly digesting any food or liquids.
Nearly three months after her surgery, Emerson is thriving back home in Orange County, and she continues to come back to Miller Children’s for follow-up care.
“As much as it was an overwhelming experience, every piece of my daughter’s body was looked at carefully,” says Shannon. “I wasn’t worried that something else was going to come up because they caught everything. They brought all the right people, all the different specialties in one hospital to help her. I felt comfortable the day we left and that was important for me.”