Daily Dose – Putting Christopher’s childhood within reach through orthopedic surgery

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There are some things you can plan for before your baby is born. Like where you’re going to give birth, how you’ll overcome contractions, and who you want by your side.

Like many future moms, Mercedes Edney had done everything to prepare for the arrival of their little boy. Although the delivery doesn’t always go as planned, the one thing she didn’t expect was that her newborn baby would be born with a brachial plexus injury at birth. It’s a rare and unpredictable condition – occurring in only about 1 in 1,000 births – where a baby is born with a birth injury. In Christopher’s case, it was associated with a broken right arm.

Fortunately, because Mercedes had chosen an Atrium Health Women’s Care Obstetrician-Gynecologist for her pregnancy, she gave birth at Atrium Health’s Carolinas Medical Center. It is adjacent to Atrium Health’s Levine Children’s Hospital, which is Charlotte’s only U.S. News & World Report-awarded children’s hospital and ranks among the best in the nation for pediatric orthopedics.

Almost immediately, Christopher began physical therapy in hopes that his arm would heal on its own. But when there was no improvement after 6 months, her orthopedic team knew it was time to consider the next step: surgery.

“We were able to recognize his injury pattern as a baby and had the experience and surgical skills to work out what needed to happen and how to fix it. We also have a diverse surgical skill set to provide him with the full range of treatment options. There are few places in the country that offer this level of care,” says Bryan J. Loeffler, MD, orthopedic surgeon and associate professor of orthopedics at Atrium Health Levine Children’s.

But like any mother, Mercedes wanted to be sure surgery was the right choice and set out to learn everything she could about brachial plexus injuries at birth. “Nobody wants to hear their baby needs surgery,” she says. After joining every Facebook group, watching every online video, and watching her son, she knew: Surgery wasn’t just a option for Christopher – it was the better option and would be more beneficial in the long run.

“These operations save Christopher from having problems with his arm later. We are performing these procedures to improve his function now, but also to reduce the risk of shoulder problems in the future,” says Dr. Loeffler, who worked alongside colleagues Daniel Lewis, MD, and Glenn Gaston, MD, to ensure that Christopher’s procedures were a success.

Christopher needed 2 surgeries to correct his arm. The first, when he was 6 months old, repaired the nerve in his biceps and released the tension in his muscles. Within days, he started lifting his arm for the first time. The second surgery, a tendon transfer when he was 18 months old, gave his arm full range of motion. In the span of a day, he was climbing, running, and becoming a kid – casting and all.

“It’s a real honor and privilege to take care of children like Christopher. Having a multidisciplinary team to assess these children as babies, make the right decisions about surgeries and when, and follow them over time – it’s all part of the comprehensive care we provide,” says the Dr. Loeffler.

Giving all the hugs and high fives

Although Christopher still has follow-up visits with his orthopedic team, there are no plans for additional surgeries. And while Mercedes is relieved to have this part of Christopher’s journey behind her, she is grateful to Levine Children’s Hospital and the medical family they have here. Mercedes says: “I love all the staff. They have watched my son grow since he was a newborn and have always loved him.

Christopher spent the first 2 years of his life virtually unable to use his right arm. Today, the 4-year-old can clap, hug, bounce a basketball and do everything any other kid can. He even challenges his dad to do push-ups and pull-ups! “Being able to take a child with a non-functioning arm and see them do all these things now is extremely rewarding,” says Dr. Loeffler.

We would ask Christopher what he thinks about it. But you know what? He’s busy being an active, on-the-go kid, which is all we could have hoped for.

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