When Dr. John Meara from Boston Children’s Hospital looked at the ultrasound images he had been sent by a couple in Wisconsin, he was more than a little shocked. But according to Irish Central on Jan. 30, Dr. Meara performed what many have described as a miracle when he saved a baby boy born with his brain outside his head.
Mary Gundrum from Wisconsin, a devoutly Catholic mom of seven, was 20 weeks pregnant. A routine ultrasound revealed she was having a boy and it also revealed something out in front of the child’s face. Their baby boy had what is called an encephalocele, which means part of his brain was exposed, covered in skin, outside his head.
Mary and her husband Mark were counseled to terminate the pregnancy, the usual solution to this type of diagnosis. Mary, 40, said, “We did a lot of soul searching. I was thinking, ‘That’s my child. It’s that simple. I’m not going to take the life of my child.’”
So Mark and Mary set about to research doctors who could help and found Dr. John Meara by reputation. Dr. Meara, a plastics and craniofacial surgeon, had saved a child with a similar defect in Haiti in 2008.
Dr. Meara looked at the ultrasound for the Gundrum baby, now named Dominic Pio, and phoned the parents to say, “I want you to know it’s going to be OK.”
Little Dominic’s case was not the usual, though, even for a deformity such as this. Dr. Meara looked at the images and thought he saw two things wrong, not one.
“I looked at the images, and I thought it was a very rare combination of two diagnoses. There was the encephalocele, and there was the Tessier facial cleft, in which the two halves of his head and face never came together.”
Dominic Pio Gundrum was born on June 18, 2012. He weighed eight pounds. As predicted, he was born with frontonasal-dysplasia, meaning the two halves of his head never fused. His optic nerves were underdeveloped and he was missing the part of his brain which connects the left and right cerebral hemispheres. His pituitary gland could not be located. He was otherwise healthy.
At four months old, Dominic got to meet Dr. Meara and his colleague, Dr. Mark Proctor, a neurosurgeon, at Boston Children’s Hospital. A month later, the two doctors performed surgery on Dominic. It took seven hours and a team of 10 to 20 people to remove the encephalocele, close Dominic’s skull, repair the Tessier cleft and bring the baby’s facial features together.
The surgery was successful, but the next day Dominic developed seizures, fungal meningitis and suffered respiratory and feeding problems. He spent three weeks in intensive care. Despite it all, Dominic went home to Wisconsin with his parents.
Dominic Pio Gundrum is now seven months old. Dr. Meara is very pleased with his development, as are his parents.
“Developmentally, he seems to be appropriate for his age," said Dr. Meara. "I think it’s entirely possible that he will be an entirely normal little guy.” The only part of this ordeal that remains uncertain is the baby’s eyesight.
Dr. Meara, however, remains optimistic. “When he’s 6 feet tall and has a head of hair on him, you may see a little line on his forehead, but that’s probably about it.”