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With 1% chance of survival, doctors save preemie with incomplete esophagus with surgery involving magnets 

by | Apr 25, 2022

By Dave Andrusko

On March 9, one year after she was admitted to the hospital, a preemie given a 1% chance of survival at birth has recovered and was healthy enough to be discharged from Rocky Mountain’s pediatric ICU, Yi-Jin Yu reported for Good Morning America.

Baby Harper’s parents, Kayla Hatch and Victor Jacobo, of Nebraska, said she was now home with her twin sister, Gabriella, along with their three older siblings.

In February 22, 2021, Harper and Gabriella were born at 23 weeks and delivered by emergency cesarean section at Box Butte General Hospital in Alliance, Nebraska. They “were immediately flown to HCA Healthcare’s Rocky Mountain Hospital for Children in Denver, about 250 miles southwest, for treatment,” according to Good Morning America, “where Harper was diagnosed with long-gap esophageal atresia and pulmonary hypertension, or high blood pressure in the lungs.”

Looking back, Dr. Steven Rothenberg said he would have given her a 1% to 2% chance of survival. Rothenberg, chief of pediatric surgery at Rocky Mountain Hospital for Children, started consulting on Harper’s case shortly after she arrived at the hospital. 

She had Type A esophageal atresia “where her upper and lower esophagus were not connected to each other, all of which made it unable for her to eat, drink and swallow through the mouth,” Yi-Jin Yu reported. “Rothenberg said Harper had a gap that was about two-thirds the size of her chest, or about 3.5 inches.”

Harper had three different surgeries to close the gap:

She had her final esophagus repair surgery with the small magnets on Jan. 20. 

“We placed the magnets — one in the lower half of her esophagus and one in the upper half of her esophagus — and then what happened over the next 48 hours is the attraction of the magnets brought the two ends of the esophagus together,” Rothenberg explained. 

“It was that final bit that we needed. And then … if you leave the magnets in place, they sort of fuse the tissue and make a communication, and that worked in her, and so we were able to avoid the third operative procedure of going back into her chest. The magnets did the final work for us, and then after a week we pulled the magnets down.” 

Harper has challenges ahead—including to learn how to eat– but Rothenberg said he’s confident about her prognosis. 

“The fact that she’s made it home and they’re all together is really a miracle,” Rothenberg said, adding that a large team of nurses, respiratory therapists and ICU doctors all had a hand in caring for Harper and her twin sister.

Hatch said of Harper, “For the life that she’s had and everything she’s been through so far, she’s just happy.”

Categories: Premature babies
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