Imagine watching hospital workers roll your 3-month-old baby in for surgery. A Fort Myers couple was understandably nervous but thankful that local surgeons could utilize a first-of-its-kind treatment.
The infant was born with a defect that could have impeded his brain development. Stetson Labelle came into the world a little early, and it was while he was in the NICU that doctors found something unexpected.
“We definitely didn’t plan for him being a preemie baby or having his diagnosis of his hard spot on his head,” said Mackenzie Labelle, Stetson’s mother.
Parents Mackenzie and Jared Labelle learned Stetson was born with cranio-sysno-stosis. A birth defect where the baby is born with growth plates in the skull fused.
“There are growth centers in the skull that allow for rapid expansion of the brain during early years. And if those close early, then you can get a misshapen head and some impacts on brain development,” said Dr. David Lobb, a craniofacial & pediatric plastic surgeon with Pediatrix Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery Specialists.
“There’s concern that if the skull is not growing properly, that the brain may not have enough room to grow,” said Dr. Theodore Spinks, a neurosurgeon at Golisano Children’s Hospital.
It was visible at birth. Stetson’s head was narrower and longer than it should have been. And the issue would only get more pronounced as he grew. Finding it early opened the opportunity for Stetson to get a less traumatic surgery.
“Dr. Spinks and I had experience in a minimally invasive technique that we can offer at a very young age, which allows the patient to go through surgery and recovery in a more expedited manner,” said Dr. Lobb.
“Essentially, what we do, the simple version of it, is take that suture out to leave a small gap. So that’s a strip. Craniotomy means taking out the bone from the skull, and it’s just a strip-shaped craniotomy,” said Dr. Spinks.
Surgeons Lobb and Spinks teamed up for the corrective surgery when Stetson was 3 months old, removing a strip of bone running almost the length of his skull, leaving space for his growing brain. This procedure was a first for Southwest Florida. If the family had waited until he was older, the operation would have been more complex, but it was still difficult.
“It was very hard seeing people walk away with your child. He’s so innocent and doesn’t really know what’s going on. But we were very positive. And everything went really well,” said Jared Labell.
Now at 6 months old, there are few reminders of the surgery, and the corrective helmet Stetson will wear for a year to reshape his head hardly slows him down.
“He definitely hasn’t let anything stop him. He’s right there, where he needs to be with all of his development, if anything, some stages, he’s more advanced than what they expect him to be,” said Mackenzie Labelle.
“It’s very hard to put your child up for surgery. I’m sure—especially a surgery such as this where there’s potential for quite significant issues. Luckily, we didn’t see any of that in his case. And he went through this just fine,” said Dr. Lobb.
The surgery went even better than expected, one surprise his family is happy about.
Advanced pediatric procedures like this are becoming more common as Golisano continues to add specialists. It’s all part of their goal to keep children in Southwest Florida and give them the care they need.