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How Cincinnati doctors saved a baby whose intestines traveled into his chest

Posted at 7:45 PM, May 07, 2018
and last updated 2018-05-07 19:56:21-04

CINCINNATI -- Anisah Brown feels blessed every day that she got to meet her son, Azare. His safe arrival in the world was never a guarantee, and he might not have survived his first week of life without the innovative intervention of the Cincinnati Fetal Center.

Early in her pregnancy, Brown learned her baby had a rare condition called congenital diaphragmatic hernia: A hole in his diaphragm that allowed abdominal organs such as intestines, stomach and spleen to travel upward, behind his ribcage.

That space's intended tenants -- his lungs -- were getting crowded out. Without room to grow, they would be too small to provide enough oxygen for Azare when he was born.

"I was like, ‘I can't give up,'" Brown said. "I have to try something."

Doctors at the Fetal Center, where medical professionals from Children's Hospital, Good Samaritan and the University of Cincinnati Medical Center pool their knowledge, offered her a solution. 

Using endoscopic tools, they entered Brown's womb and inserted a tiny balloon -- no bigger than a grain of rice -- into Azare's developing windpipe. They then inflated the balloon, blocking the trachea and gradually expanding Azare's lungs to a normal size. 

"That causes the organs in the chest to gradually get pushed back down in the abdomen," Dr. Paul Kingma explained.

No other hospital in the area had ever performed this procedure, but for Azare and his mother, it worked. His team deflated the balloon shortly before Azare's birth, which went off without a hitch.

When Brown finally saw him, she burst into tears. 

The boy survived not only his first week but his first 16 months, and if the speed at which he ran around while we interviewed his mother is any indication, his lungs are doing just fine.