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Cleveland Clinic doctors operate on 4-day old baby diagnosed with rare birth defect

Posted at 6:32 PM, Oct 29, 2018
and last updated 2018-10-29 19:32:42-04

About one year one ago Middleburg Heights couple received the best news - they were pregnant. The pair was expecting their first child, a girl.

Jenn Bohach said she had a mostly normal pregnancy, with the usual morning sickness.

But at week 36 the normalcy faded.

“During the ultrasound I could tell that the tech saw something," Bohach said. "She called in one of the other doctors who wasn't even my OB." 

Bohach was worried, as was her husband, Patrick, who was waiting anxiously in the lobby. 

"Normally these are happy, fun occasions, but this one was different," Patrick recalled. "I could just feel my heart dropping a little bit. You know that feeling in your stomach," he said. 

The Bohach's found out their daughter was diagnosed with congenial diaphragmatic hernia, also known as CDH, a rare birth defect. It means there's a hole in the fetus' diaphragm, pushing organs like the stomach, liver and colon up into her chest. 

“It was very scary," Bohach said. 

The couple feared the worst because only 1,600 babies are born each year with CDH and 30 percent of them die from the condition.

They turned to Dr. Darrell Cass at the Cleveland Clinic. Dr. Cass said he examined the ultrasound and MRI and knew the Bohach's baby had a chance.

"We were very optimistic that this was a treatable condition," Dr. Cass said.

On May 14, 2018, Bohach gave birth to baby Natalie and immediately a team of doctors stepped in. On her fourth day of life, Dr. Cass and his team operated on Natalie's small body.

"We made three tiny incisions, each about an eighth of an inch or so, we put a camera inside, we put instruments inside and we were able to push the intentions, the stomach, the colon, some of the liver, the spleen back into the abdominal cavity," Dr. Cass said. 

Baby Natalie spent the next three weeks recovering at the Cleveland Clinic's neonatal intensive care unit. 

Dr. Cass said Natalie progressed better than 90 percent of babies in her position.

"Some of that had to do with having no complications during surgery and another was her favorable condition in which she was born," Dr. Cass said. " I expect her to have a great normal life forever. I think she can play football, soccer, whatever sport she wants to play. I expect her to be a completely normal girl."

Natalie is now five-months-old and discovering the world around her.

“We call her miracle baby all the time," Patrick said.

"I’m still amazed at what the surgeons were able to do with her," Bohach said.