Health Team

WakeMed one of few hospitals to perform delicate newborn surgery

Posted April 9, 2013

Two weeks before the birth of their daughter, Debbie Blackman and Brian Pezzulo had every reason to believe all was well.

“But then we came in for an ultrasound because they said that she looked a little small,” Pezzulo said.

Doctors decided to induce labor. Kiara weighed almost 5 pounds. She was hungry, but she couldn't feed without vomiting and coughing.

A simple chest X-ray confirmed a rare condition called tracheoesophageal fistula. From the mouth down, the esophagus ends in a pouch. The other end, leading from the stomach, is attached to the trachea. There was no surgery to fix the problem until 1939.

“So up until the mid-1900s, babies that were born with this all died,” said Dr. David Hoover, a WakeMed pediatric surgeon.

Hoover said that until about 10 years ago, the fix required a large incision opening up the chest. Now it can be done with small incisions.

“Just by using a scope in the chest, in the thorax, we can use small incisions in accomplishing what we used to accomplish with very large incisions,” he said.

Attaching the ends of the esophagus is delicate work in a very tiny space next to the heart.

Kiara’s surgery was the first time the minimally invasive procedure was performed at WakeMed. A recent study showed only 65 places in this country offer the procedure for this rare condition.

“We were very scared,”Blackman said. “After we talked to (Hoover), we felt really comfortable because he was extremely confident. He was like, ‘Yeah, I got this.’”

All went well and Kiara went home more than a week earlier than she would have with open surgery.

“She’s gaining weight, she’s looking good and she’s feeding well,” Hoover said.

Added Blackman: “When she tasted that first sip of milk in her mouth, it was all good from there. There was no turning back.”


This story is closed for comments.

Oldest First
View all
  • Desiderata Apr 15, 2013

    Glad this worked out well. There are several intensive care nursery units in this area, many good doctors , nurses and others who save lives on a daily basis . Wake Med is just one of many in this country, All have their special features and many young lives are nurished to health in all of them. Just saying.

  • southerncharmsfarm Apr 12, 2013

    WakeMed is amazing on all accounts. My sone spent his first week of life in the NICU unit there and the amount of support and the care given was beyond amazing. I owe a lot to these wonderful doctors. My son is now a healthy and extremely active toddler. God Bless WakeMed and all those who work there.

  • caesarrodney1980 Apr 10, 2013

    My son spent the first 16 days of his life in NICU at Wake Med and the level of care given there 18 years ago couldn't be beat. God Bless Kiara,her family and the doctors at WakeMed.

  • mep Apr 9, 2013

    Wake Meds chief of pediatric surgery saved my childs life, when no other surgeon with the skills needed were available. Cant say enough good things about them..... except of course THANK YOU!

  • kbo80 Apr 9, 2013

    Aww that is great. There is nothing more precious than having and taking home a healthy baby.