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Duke doctors use rare procedure to save newborn

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Kristen Biance holds Bennett during his one-month checkup. Kristen Biance holds Bennett during his one-month checkup.

The Biances had a roller coaster of a ride as first-time parents when their seemingly healthy baby boy, Bennett, had a serious health issue.

Doctors at Duke Children's Hospital and Health Center were able to perform a technique they rarely use to help.

Bennett was born at Durham Regional Hospital on April 22.

"After about five minutes, he was laying on my chest, and the nurses noticed he was kind of grunting instead of full out crying," said his mother, Kristen Biance.

What was the happiest day of their lives, rolled into the next day.

"It was probably one of the worst days of my life," she said.

The grunting and fast breathing led to a chest X-ray which showed his intestines were in his chest.

"My heart sank. My husband was upset. We were both so upset," Biance said.

It's a condition usually detected in an ultrasound prior to birth, though that was not the case with Bennett. Doctors see it in every one thousand to four thousand babies.

The condition is called Congenital Diaphragmatic Hernia, or CDH.

It can impact the development of the lungs.

"Diaphragmatic hernias are probably the scariest babies we have in the NICU," said Dr. Mike Cotten, neonatologist at Duke Children's Hospital and Health Center.

Biance said, "When you first hear about this prognosis, it just sounds so awful."

And, it is often awful.

"Sometimes, the babies don't make it," Dr. Cotten said.

Biance said it was emotional for she and her husband.

"We asked, ‘How long should we expect to be in the intensive care nursery?' She's like, ‘I've never seen a baby stay less than a month, honestly.' When my husband heard that, and he's not a man who cries very easily, he just started balling."

In all that bad news, the Biance family heard something good.

Bennett was healthy enough that doctors did not have to wait to operate.

"Because he wasn't so sick, he gave us a great opportunity  to try a different kind of surgery," Dr. Cotten said.

Dr. Henry Rice, division chief of pediatric general surgery, said, "Bennett was very lucky that his anatomy was quite favorable so we did a minimally invasive approach, which is relatively new."

Bennett is only the second baby at Duke to have this type of procedure in which doctors made three small incisions instead of one large one.

Bennett spent just a week at Duke before heading home where mom says things seem to be normal.

"I'm always listening for that little grunt. That weird sound. But, he doesn't make it anymore. He makes lots of other weird noises," she said.

WNCN was at his one-month checkup. Dr. Rice said the X-ray checked out fine.

"That's essentially normal. You actually can't get better," he said,

Dr. Rice said Bennett won't likely have any long-term health problems as a result of CDH and won't need any more operations.

The family has since moved out of the area and his mother said Bennett is doing well. He's now 3-months-old and about 13 pounds.


Justin Quesinberry

Justin is a reporter for WNCN and a North Carolina native. He has spent the better part of the last decade covering the news in central North Carolina.  More>>

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