New, non-invasive procedure for infant at WakeMed is first of its kind in U.S.

RALEIGH (WTVD) -- WakeMed has become the first hospital in the US to perform a non-invasive procedure for a rare condition where a baby is born with an esophagus that is improperly formed. It's a major accomplishment for the hospital, but for one Wake Forest family, it means their infant daughter can now lead a normal life.

Annalise Dapo was born in February, but so far has spent her first eight weeks in the hospital due to Esophageal Atresia. It's a rare condition that caused her to be born with a huge gap in her esophagus, leaving it disconnected.

"Essentially your esophagus is your swallowing tube in your chest. In a little baby, it's about 12 centimeters. She was missing almost 4 centimeters of her esophagus, so she couldn't swallow," explained David Hoover, M.D. - a pediatric surgeon at WakeMed.

Typically, this kind of diagnosis would require invasive surgery which involves opening up a baby's chest, making for a lengthy period of recovery afterward. But, Dr. Hoover learned of a physician in Chicago who invented a new, non-surgical alternative using magnets, and suggested the Dapos try that approach. One magnet goes down the mouth into the upper portion of the esophagus, the other goes through a small hole in the lower portion of the esophagus.

"And they draw together. And then when they come together they stretch the esophagus, that 3 centimeter gap is gone," said Dr. Hoover.

And, less than a week later, the result for Annalise is a completely fused, whole esophagus - meaning now she can eat normally and swallow on her own - something she couldn't do before.

"It's amazing. It's such a good feeling. When the magnets finally came out and I was able to pick her up, I don't think I put her down the entire day," said her mother, Suzanne, with a laugh.

Her doctors say her long-term prognosis looks great, which means she's almost ready to finally go home with her family.

"I can't wait. I think we are going home Sunday which is my birthday, so it will be the best birthday present ever," said a smiling Suzanne.

Annalise's condition occurs 1 in every 4,000 deliveries - although her case was more severe than most. But, by undergoing this new procedure as opposed to traditional surgery, doctors say her hospitalization was shortened by three months, saved the family tens of thousands of dollars, and minimized her pain.

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