Archive for Sunday, December 23, 2012

After a ‘miracle,’ Gardner family will enjoy Christmas with a healthy toddler

December 23, 2012


Christian Hernandez, 18 months old, is walking briskly around his family's living room a few days before Christmas, clutching his favorite blanket with both hands as it trails behind him like a cape.

At this age, he's constantly moving around, his parents say.

About a month ago, as Thanksgiving approached in the Hernandez home in Gardner, the family was waiting for a call. After months spent wondering what was wrong with the toddler's eye, they'd discovered that when they'd found him months before screaming, holding a metal meat thermometer in his hand, it hadn't been just a scratch.

Christian Hernandez thinks about how lucky he is after his 18-month-old son Christian fell on a meat thermometer this past summer and it pierced his left eye about two inches into his skull.

Christian Hernandez thinks about how lucky he is after his 18-month-old son Christian fell on a meat thermometer this past summer and it pierced his left eye about two inches into his skull.

And now they waited to hear if an unlikely household accident could be met with a just-as-unlikely fix.

When Thanksgiving came, they sat down for dinner and tried to focus on enjoying each other's company. But they knew the call was coming.

Christmas, though, is going to be better.

"A hundred times better," said Francine Hernandez, Christian's mom.

It was September when Francine noticed that Christian's left eye seemed unusually pink.

She took him to the doctor, who said the boy had pinkeye and prescribed eyedrops.

After that didn't clear things up, they went back, and got more eyedrops.

That didn't work, either. So they headed to an ophthalmologist at Children's Mercy Hospital.

She was stumped, too. But after three different scans of Christian's eye and brain, she had a name for the problem: a "fistula."

"I started looking up to see what exactly it was," Francine said, "even though she told me not to."

It was something rarely seen in children, and a problem no one at Children's Mercy would be able to fix, maybe no one anywhere near Kansas City.

But a few days later, they found out there was just the person for the job near KC: Koji Ebersole, a endovascular neurosurgeon at Kansas University Hospital. By now it was November.

Ebersole heard from Children's Mercy that the suspected problem was something called a carotid cavernous fistula. He was skeptical — until, when held a stethoscope to the boy's neck, he could hear blood rushing through a vessel there.

The problem is almost never seen in children, the doctor says. And the wiggly, smiling toddler he saw in front of him gave no indication that something could be seriously wrong with the blood vessels in his brain.

"He's the happiest little guy," Ebersole said. "That's why nobody could suspect that he was harboring something so insidious and dangerous."

That sound in his neck was enough to make hiim order an angiogram, a procedure to examine blood vessels from the inside with the use of a catheter. It's done so rarely on children that Ebersole had to use a catheter nearly the size of one that would be used for an adult.

The test confirmed the suspicions he'd heard from Children's Mercy.

"I asked, 'Did this young child have something sharp go into his eye?' " Ebersole said.

After it happened back in July, doctors at the emergency room had said it was just a scratch.

On that day, Christian's 15-year-old sister saw him running with something in his hand when he tripped over his foot and then shrieked.

When Francine ran to find him, he was standing, crying, wth a couple drops of blood on his toes. She saw a scratch under his eye. In his hand was a metal meat thermometer.

His eye began to swell quickly, so they headed to the emergency room. The ruling from a doctor there: A scratch, and a black eye.

"That is what everybody would have thought," Ebersole said.

But as Francine told him about that day, he began to piece together what had actually happened.

When Christian fell, his head had slammed down on the upturned thermometer. It did more than leave a scratch: It pierced the skin underneath his left eye and penetrated into the skull by about 2.5 inches.

It poked a hole in the carotid artery behind his eye, which had caused it to bleed inside his skull.

But what's more remarkable, Ebersole says, is what it didn't do. It missed his eye, nerves, other blood vessels, the brain itself.

And if had struck the artery in any other spot, Christian likely would have died that day. But the spot where it struck was in a compartment in the bran called the cavernal sinus. That meant that when it bled, the blood simply flowed into another vessel and ran down his neck — the cause of the rushing sound Ebersole could hear through his stethoscope.

"I thought it was one in a million," Ebersole said.

But still, the situation was serious: if the hole in the artery was not patched, then within a few weeks or months the blood could no longer be contained. Christian would likely collapse suddenly into a coma.

Finally, the Hernandez family knew what the problem was, and that it could be fixed. But they waited for more than a week to see what would happen. During that time, they gathered for Thanksgiving at home in Gardner: Francine, her husband (also named Christian), the younger Christian and his four sisters, ages 8 to 15.

"We just kind of tried not to think about that part yet," Francine said.

But by the Tuesday after Thanksgiving, the family was at KU Hospital at 6 a.m., ready for Christian to undergo surgery.

Ebersole would use a catheter, entering through a blood vessel in Christian's leg, to leave tiny metal coils inside the carotid artery that would patch up the hole there.

Angelica, his 15-year-old sister who loves to chase Christian around the house and make him laugh by feigning injury when he hits her with a toy, waited all day at the hospital with her mom and dad.

"I was scared," Angelica said. "It was really sad."

It took until mid-afternoon, but they got word: he was OK. That night, when he woke, he was irritated by the IV cords in his arms. But he was his regular, feisty self.

Ebersole says he'll require some regular checkups, but he expects Christian to live a totally normal life with no problems resulting from this.

Now, Christian runs though his house again. He never leaves the sight of his parents or sisters. And he'll never touch anything sharp again, Francine says.

Ebersole says, by the way, that Francine and the older Christian did everything right, staying persistent as the toddler's problem failed to go away. He credited the other doctors they saw, as well.

"There is no way anybody would have suspected this," Ebersole said.

Christian's parents say they don't know how he beat such tremendous odds to recover from such a potentially disastrous accident.

His father says he got some sense of how amazing Christian's story was when he overheard Ebersole talking to a colleague afterward.

"He said it was a miracle," the older Christian said.

Just a few days after Christian's surgery, a family in Dearborn, Mo., won a $293 million Powerball jackpot.

Christian Sr. said he heard, everywhere he went, how lucky that family was. Imagine all that money, people would say.

And sure, that money sounds fine. But their family had triumphed over some pretty amazing odds itself.

Their prize is a fidgety, rambunctious 18-month-old, and a Christmas free from worry.

"To me, we hit our own Powerball," Christian said.


matahari 5 years, 6 months ago

nice story, but who hires these writers? that was one of the most awkward articles to try and read!

Bursting 5 years, 6 months ago

Thanks goodness, maybe keep a better "eye" on him, I know babies are babies, but a meat thermometer? Come on man!

Sherry Warren 5 years, 6 months ago

I wondered how long it would take til someone started in on their parenting.

SOOO glad to hear that this family so narrowly escaped a terrible tragedy. If only all were as lucky,

Happy Holidays to ALL!

Terry Sexton 5 years, 6 months ago

He certainly is a cute little guy. Best wishes to him & his family.

christy kennedy 5 years, 6 months ago

Wow. That's just amazing—the whole thing. So many things can happen in an instant to an active little person like that. Way to go, everybody, and best wishes.

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