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Pioneering WakeMed procedure corrects infant's rare disorder

Posted April 10, 2015

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Eight-week-old Annalise Dapo will leave WakeMed this weekend and go to her Youngsville home for the first time thanks to a procedure performed for the first time in the U.S. to repair her esophagus.

Annalise was born missing about one-third of her esophagus, meaning she couldn't eat or even swallow saliva because her throat and stomach weren't connected. The condition, known as esophageal atresia, affects about one in 80,000 infants.

Surgery has traditionally been the only way to repair the problem until Dr. Mario Zaritzky, a pediatric radiologist with the University of Chicago Medicine, developed a magnet-based procedure. Magnets are inserted into the upper and lower ends of the esophagus, and they pull the two ends together over the course of a week so the tissue can fuse together properly.

WakeMed pediatric surgeon Dr. David Hoover performed the procedure on Annalise on March 30 – Zaritzky flew in from Chicago as a consultant – with one magnet going down her throat and the other inserted through her stomach by way of the feeding tube she has used to eat since she was born. The magnets were removed on Monday after her esophagus was successfully repaired.

"We don't understand all of the benefits yet, and we won't know them all for years to come, I think, as we watch her grow and we see she's being able to avoid a lot of the complications that a lot of these babies have had over the years because surgery was the only option," Hoover said Friday.

The magnet procedure has been used in the U.S. three previous times but only on infants who had also undergone surgery. Annalise is the first patient in the country to have her esophageal atresia corrected without surgery, WakeMed officials said.

Her mother, Suzanne Dapo, fed Annalise from a bottle at a news conference at WakeMed.

"Her prognosis is wonderful. I think she'll grow up just like any other normal kid, except she'll have a really interesting baby book," Dapo said. "It's amazing. It's such a good feeling. When the magnets came out and I could actually pick her up, I don't think I put her down for the entire day."

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