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Health Team

Duke first in NC to surgically correct infant skull deformity

Posted August 18, 2011 2:12 p.m. EDT
Updated August 18, 2011 6:20 p.m. EDT

— Babies born with a skull deformity can get help from Duke University Hospital surgeons who are the first in the state to perform a minimally invasive procedure to fix the problem.

Four-month-old Catherine Bowman, of Sumter, S.C., was one in 2,500 children born with a fused skull called craniosynostosis.

Catherine's parents quickly noticed that her skull was shaped differently than that of her fraternal twin, Margaret.

"As soon as I saw her when they brought her in, I said, 'Nah, this ain't right,'" mother Catherine Zyback said, adding that she felt a hard ridge on her baby's head.

In babies such as Catherine, the saggitall suture, which is tissue that connects the two skull bones, fuses too early. That puts pressure on the brain and can change the shape of the head.

Open surgery, which is standard to correct the problem offers great results, but a lot of blood loss and some permanent scars are associated with it.

Catherine will become the first infant in North Carolina to undergo an alternative surgery, which uses two small incisions and endoscopic cameras.

"The visualization now with our optics is so good with high definition that we can see ... just beautifully," Duke neurosurgeon Dr. Gerald Grant said.

Grant performed the procedure as it was pioneered at the University of Texas Health Science Center in San Antonio. The treatment has been available for 10 years, but other hospitals have been slow to adopt it.

"But over time, it's been shown that the results of these surgery can be absolutely incredible," Duke plastic surgeon Dr. Jeffrey Marcus said.

The endoscopic surgery is quicker and the hospital stay shorter than with the standard surgery. Instead of the skull being reshaped artificially, it grows naturally into a normal, round shape as the child wears a helmet for 18 months.

"It'll be just part of her wardrobe. They come in all sorts of colors, even camoflauge," Catherine's father, James Bowman, said.

"She won't even remember it. You know, she's going to be not even 2 years old when it comes off," Zyback said.

Surgery to correct craniosynostosis should be done by the time a baby is five months old to reduce the risk of complications, which include death.