Two Surgeons, Six Tiny Babies, and 12 Very Relieved Parents

September 20, 2013

Craniosynostosis team sets record for back-to-back operations

Ask a hundred people on the street to define the word craniosynostosis and you’ll likely see 100 shaking heads or hands reaching for smart phones. That wouldn’t be the case if you happen upon a parent whose child is among the 1 in 1,000 babies whose fibrous sutures in their skulls fuse too soon and turn to bone. It’s a birth defect called craniosynostosis — a condition that requires surgery so the baby’s brain can grow normally. On Thursday, Sept. 19, a husband-and-wife surgical team at University Hospital that developed a less-invasive craniosynostosis surgery more than two decades ago set a world record by performing the operation on six babies on the same day, back to back.

The babies, ranging in age from 1 month to 7 months, and traveling to San Antonio from as far away as Germany to receive the procedure, are all recovering well. “We are thrilled these families found their way to University Health System,” said Michelle Ryerson, RN, University Health System’s chief operating officer for Pediatric Clinical Services. “Learning that your newborn has this condition is understandably very frightening, and Drs. Jimenez and Barone really understand that. Their approach is less invasive and innovative, and, as important, their compassion and commitment to each family is truly remarkable.”

Dr. David Jimenez, chair of the UT Health Science Center Department of Neurosurgery, and plastic surgeon Dr. Constance Barone developed the innovative procedure to decrease complications, surgical trauma and blood transfusions. In addition to being renowned surgeons, they’re also parents. They knew they would not want their child to undergo a major surgery if excellent results could be achieved with less time under anesthesia, less blood loss and a shorter hospital stay.

Before they developed their method, the only option was the traditional operation, which involves an incision from ear to ear, and at least a partial removal the baby’s skull so the surgeon can reshape and replace it using a variety of materials. This approach, still being done routinely in other hospitals, can take up to seven hours, require blood transfusions and a hospital stay of up to five days.

The Jimenez/Barone approach involves making one or two small incisions and using an endoscope to guide them as they release the prematurely closed sutures and remove the involved bone. This enables the brain and skull to grow normally. Following the operation, which generally takes less than an hour, the baby wears a custom helmet for several months to guide the shape of the head as it expands.

The babies that joined the team in making history on Thursday include a 1-month-old from Houston, a 2-month-old from Chicago, a 3½-month-old from Cleveland, a 3-month-old from Georgetown, Texas, a 3-month-old from Germany and a 7-month-old from Tyler, Texas. They were all released from University Hospital after an overnight stay and will be back for follow-up appointments on Wednesday, Sept. 25.

“This effort is made possible by a team committed to providing the most advanced and innovative care to our patients” said Dr. Jimenez. “From the clinic, to the operating room, to the pediatric ICU staff, everyone is committed to these patients. We could not do it without the entire team working together.”