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Breakthrough Surgery At UNC Saves Infant's Life

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CHAPEL HILL, N.C. — UNC Hospitals

is getting praise for performing a breakthrough surgery during the delivery of a little girl.

The surgery was the first of its kind at UNC and has only been performed at a handful of hospitals worldwide.

Before the surgery, doctors discovered the unborn girl had rare, severe facial defects. The baby's mouth essentially stretched across her face. The defect meant the baby did not have an open airway to breathe and when the second the umbilical cord was cut she would not get any oxygen.

UNC doctors decided to try a complex procedure to save her life.

"I believe it was new ground for everybody," Dr. Nancy Chescheir said.

Doctors delivered only the head and shoulders through a Caesarian section.

They ran a tube though her nose and into her lungs to create an airway. After they finished, they delivered her and cut the umbilical cord.

Chescheir said even though the surgery was well choreographed, stress levels were high.

"It was very intense," she said.

Doctors usually only have a 5-minute window to get air to the baby. In this case, the baby's defect was so severe that it took 12 minutes.

"If that baby had just been born and cut from the placenta and taken 12 minutes she would have been brain damaged or dead," ENT Specialist Dr. Carlton Zdansky said.

After surgery, doctors said the newborn showed no signs of brain damage.

"You always expect with something like this would have a glitch somewhere. There was no glitch at all," Chescheir said.

The baby will need several reconstructive surgeries to correct the facial defect, but the team of doctors said they believe she will live a normal, healthy life.

The biggest risk during the surgery is that the baby's umbilical cord cannot sustain oxygen during the procedure. The mother is also at risk of hemorrhaging.

The family of the baby did not want to be identified, but they are North Carolina residents.


Terry Cantrell, Photographer
Andrea Moody, Producer
Jennifer Fauteux, Web Editor

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