Human Interest

AMAZING: A common device for new moms helped to fix a baby boy’s skull

abortion, Ireland

A baby with a skull fracture was treated recently with a novel and readily-available treatment: a breast pump. 

Baby Elliot was born with a hole in his head. Although this is a rare occurrence, it does happen – sometimes as the result of delivery. The most dangerous kind, a depressed skull fracture, is when a piece of the skull gets pressed downwards, indented towards the brain. This was Elliot’s fracture, sometimes called a “ping pong” fracture as it can look like a dented ping pong ball, or hail damage on a vehicle. This type of fracture can put pressure on the brain or cause infection, and usually happens during birth when doctors need to use forceps or perform a c-section to deliver the baby quickly in order to avoid even greater injury to the baby.

Typical depressed fractures like the one Elliot had tend to require surgery to fix. 

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Elliot’s physician’s assistant, Emilie Martinez of Children’s Memorial Herman, was hoping to avoid surgery when she came across a novel way to treat the injury. She impressed the pediatric neurosurgeon Dr. David Sandberg when she told him that some of the medical literature she had read suggested treating the fracture with an obstetric pump – a kind of vacuum used in vacuum-assisted delivery of a stuck baby.

“We’re always looking for innovative ways to treat children,” said Dr. Sandberg according to Insider. “And we’re always looking for possible ways to avoid surgery… By putting the suction device right over the ping-pong fracture, it sucks the bone into place,” the physician said. “There may still be a linear fracture line, but it will heal on its own.”

Elliot was one day old when his fracture was repaired. And sure enough, he was able to avoid surgery. But Martinez still had more to add to his treatment, as she felt that an obstetric pump would be too strong. Instead, she said, “I was much more familiar with breast pumps and the way that the suction works.” She added a putty to help create a seal between the flange and the injury, first testing both the material and the amount of suction on her own hand so she knew how much pressure it caused. 

And it worked. Elliot’s fracture was repaired quickly and easily, without any of the dangerous potential side effects of surgery on a newborn. 

The doctors told Insider about their relief. “In Elliot’s case, the fracture was causing local pressure on the brain with uncertain consequences,” Dr. Sandberg said. “There could always be seizures, which can happen from any cause of irritation of the brain, or some other neurological problem. But we weren’t going to let it get that far.”

And as to Martinez’s expertise with a breast pump? “I owe my own [10-month-old] son a little bit of credit for adding to my knowledge,” she said.

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