Maybe it won’t be your baby. Maybe it will be your neighbor’s new baby, a cousin’s baby, the baby of the checkout girl at your local supermarket, or the baby of that nice couple at church. Rest assured it will be somebody’s baby because the statistics don’t lie. 1 in 2,500 babies will be born with Craniosynostosis. I know. I know. Craniosynostosis sounds like a really long, boring, and clinical word. I have to move quickly here now because I know once I start in with the medical jargon; many people tend to lose interest.
Here’s what I want you to imagine: it’s your baby. If you don’t have a baby, then it’s a baby you love such as a niece, nephew, or a friend’s child. First they are going to push your baby, your very heart and soul, away from you in a hospital crib down a long white hallway. They are going to cut open your baby’s delicate, soft, sweet smelling head from ear to ear with a zigzag incision. They are going to peel your baby’s face off all the way down to their cheekbones. I’m going to pause here for a moment to let that sink in. Honestly. Your baby’s face. They are going to saw and cut into your baby’s skull so they can break it apart. They are going to remove pieces of your baby’s skull as if it were a jigsaw puzzle. They are going to take extra care around your baby’s brain that lies underneath. They are going to mold your baby’s bones into what they want them to be so that they may function and grow the way they are supposed to. They are going to put the pieces of your baby’s skull back together with an insane amount of screws and plates. They are going to put your baby’s face back on. Lastly, they are going to sew everything back together on your baby’s battered, bruised, and bleeding head. They are going to push your very heart and soul back towards you in a hospital crib down a long white hallway and into an ICU for days. You won’t be able to breathe the first time you look at your baby after surgery. It will be like a punch straight to the stomach leaving you gasping for air and void of all words.
Just days after my youngest son Emmett’s first birthday, he began having seizures and wildly convulsing at random times. In those long days and weeks of ambulance rides, emergency rooms, and multiple tests, no one could tell us what was wrong with our baby. A naturally impatient person, I could tell my son was suffering so I obsessively turned to Google for answers. I spent hours poring over websites, looking up words I didn’t understand, and reading things that went way above my knowledge base until I found it. I diagnosed my son with Craniosynostosis with Google’s help. A Pediatrician, a Family Doctor, a Neurologist, and 2 Emergency Room Doctors could not help us but Google could. I don’t think we had bad Doctors, just Doctors that had never heard of this birth defect through no fault of their own. Sadly, this is not an uncommon story. Even though this is a relatively common birth defect, there are scores of medical professionals that have never even heard of it. It took over 14 months for my son to be diagnosed with the birth defect that he had been born with.
My son was 15 months old when he had his first surgery. It took exactly 7 hours and 26 minutes. I ran while he was in surgery, suspended in a restless state of both drive and despair. I was just as broken as his skull that drained a sickening thick, red blood day and night. No matter how often I wiped up the pools of blood at the base of his neck, they kept reappearing. His eyes were swollen shut for 8 straight days. Sometimes when I close my eyes, I can still hear him screaming in terror and see him holding his head tightly in his blood stained hands. He’s had 5 surgeries so far in his short life, all related to Craniosynostosis but only 3 of them were on his head and skull. Some of the additional surgeries might have been avoided all together if he had only been diagnosed early enough. If only…
While Craniosynostosis is only one diagnosis covered under the blanket for Craniofacial Awareness/Acceptance, it is the one I chose to focus on because it has impacted our lives so greatly. So what exactly is it? Craniosynostosis is a birth defect of the skull. It occurs when one of the sutures in a baby’s head closes too early and changes the way the skull begins to grow, thus inhibiting brain growth in the process. The only cure for Craniosynostosis is surgery, the optimal age for it being between 6 and 12 months. There is a less invasive surgery available in some cases, but many babies face this same very extensive surgery as their only hope. Symptoms of Craniosynostosis in an infant include an unusual shaped head, a hard, raised ridge along the affected suture, and a soft spot that closed too early. Craniosynostosis can inhibit brain growth and can cause intracranial pressure, seizures, eye problems, developmental delays, and more if left uncorrected.
After all of this, you may wonder why it should matter to you. Here is where I must call out to you with a mother’s heartfelt plea. It has to matter. It just has to. It has to matter to our trained and trusted medical staff so that they can learn more about it, how to recognize it and how to treat it in a timely manner. It can’t go the way it went for us anymore. It has to matter to other families so that we can teach our children not to point and stare at someone that looks different, but to offer a warm and accepting smile. These kids have lived a life most adults can’t even comprehend; we needn’t make their lives harder with harsh words and exclusion. It has to matter to the other parents out there so that they could identify it in their child or another child if need be, in case they were to fall between the cracks as we did.
When all is said and done, all I can do is try to get the word out, to facilitate even the smallest of change with the hope that even a small drop in the ocean of awareness will be enough to make a difference for someone else. I leave that hope in your hands.