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During a routine checkup when she was seven months pregnant, Crystal was told by her doctor that her blood pressure was alarmingly high, and she had high amounts of protein present in her urine – disturbing signs of preeclampsia, a pregnancy complication that can lead to serious or fatal outcomes for mother and baby. Then, she was diagnosed with HELLP syndrome, a disorder that occurs in approximately 1 to 2 out of 1,000 pregnancies and causes a reduction in blood platelet count. To save Crystal’s life, as well as that of her unborn baby, doctors performed an emergency C-section.
Crystal’s husband, Richard, says he was relieved when he heard his newborn daughter, Zoey, utter her first cry. Zoey was immediately taken to the NICU, where it was discovered that part of her skull was prematurely fused, meaning surgeons had to act fast to ensure her brain would have space to grow normally.
Craniofacial surgeon Dr. Larry Sargent explains that Zoey was born with isolated craniosynostosis, which occurs approximately once in every 2,200 births. The condition occurs when one or more of the joints between the bones in the skull close prematurely, preventing a baby’s brain from growing in its natural shape. Left untreated, the condition can cause increased intracranial pressure, resulting in blindness, seizures, brain damage or death.
To correct the defect, Dr. Sargent performed a cutting-edge treatment called cranial distraction, which involves separating the fused bones and installing a distractor that can be manually cranked daily by the parents to allow the skull and brain to slowly expand in the appropriate shape.
Watch as Dr. Sargent explains how cranial distraction works:
“It’s been crazy,” Crystal says. “I’m just glad she’s OK.”
See how Zoey's skull has progressed over time, thanks to Dr. Sargent's work: