Parker Campbell struggled to gain weight as an infant. At his 2-month-old checkup, Parker’s pediatrician suspected Parker was allergic to milk and possibly soy. Parker’s mom, Ashley, was breastfeeding and changed her diet hoping to help Parker thrive.

After 5 weeks, Parker was still not gaining weight. Their pediatrician referred Parker to Dr. Robert Tran, a pediatric gastroenterologist at the Children’s Specialty Center in Irvine affiliated with MemorialCare Miller Children’s & Women’s Hospital Long Beach.

The Children’s Specialty Center provides sub-specialty care in an outpatient setting from the same pediatric specialists that diagnose and treat kids and teens at Miller Children’s & Women’s – only close to home offering convenience for moms like Ashley.

Finding the Source

The Campbell family knew Parker was a carrier for Cystic Fibrosis (CF), but his newborn screening was negative. Cystic fibrosis is a life-threatening genetic disease that affects the lungs and digestive system.

Still suspicious of Parker’s symptoms and failure to thrive, Dr. Tran ran additional tests, including the gold standard for diagnosing cystic fibrosis – the sweat test. A sweat test works by measuring the concentration of salt in a person's sweat. People with CF have more chloride (a component of salt) in their sweat than people who do not have CF.

Just as Dr. Tran suspected, Parker’s condition was more complex than food allergies. Parker was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis, exocrine pancreatic insufficiency and acid reflux. In people with CF, a defective gene and its protein product causes mucus in the body to thicken and become sticky. Build-up in the pancreas prevents the releases of digestive enzymes that help the body break down food. This leads to problems with the child’s growth.

A major complication of cystic fibrosis – exocrine pancreatic insufficiency – occurs because the thick mucus that builds up in the pancreas blocks pancreatic enzymes from entering the small intestine. The lack of pancreatic enzymes means the digestive tract has to pass partially undigested food. Fats and proteins are especially hard for people with exocrine pancreatic insufficiency to digest.

Complicating his health even more was acid reflux, which happens when acid leaks back from the stomach into the esophagus. Coughing can make this worse, so people with cystic fibrosis may be more likely to suffer from it. Over time, the acid reflux can cause injury to the esophagus.

Looking at the Big Picture

With a complex case like Parker’s, Dr. Tran needed to look at the big picture, so he could treat not just one of Parker’s diseases, but find a treatment plan that addressed them all. As a pediatric gastroenterologist, Dr. Tran is specially trained to treat kids with gastroenterology diseases from common to complex.

In the first few months Dr. Tran treated Parker, he gained significant weight. In just the first week alone, Parker gained one pound – a feat that he had yet to accomplish during the previous months.

“We’re blessed that we were sent to Dr. Tran,” says Ashley. “He not only gave us the correct diagnosis, but knew exactly what to do to treat Parker. We finally felt like we were on the right path.”

Dr. Tran continues to adjust Parker’s medications as needed to ensure he continues to grow and meet his developmental milestones. Miller Children’s & Women’s uses a team approach to treat CF, so Parker not only continues to see Dr. Tran close to home at the Children’s Specialty Center in Irvine, he also sees a multi-disciplinary care team at the Cystic Fibrosis Center at Miller Children’s & Women’s Hospital Long Beach.

Using a family centered approach to care, Dr. Tran will continue to manage Parker’s conditions throughout his childhood. No matter which Miller Children’s & Women’s location the Campbell family visits, they have peace of mind knowing Parker is always in the hands of a familiar expert. 

“From the beginning, Dr. Tran has listened to us and I feel like he has trust in me as Parker’s mother,” says Ashley. “He makes me feel like I’m a part of Parker’s care as much as one of his doctors. I always feel like he has Parker’s best interests in mind.”

Now at 7-months-old, Parker is growing strong and, like his peers, mastering the art of tummy time.