Surgery: baby had to learn to breathe

2013-07-26 00:00

BREATHING and swallowing are natural reflexes that we do without thinking, but miracle baby Makwande Mhlongo had to learn to perform these after he was born with bilateral vocal-cord palsies.

Straight after his birth, Makwande had difficulty breathing. Initially, doctors thought that his problem was a result of his umbilical cord being wrapped around his neck at birth. He was incubated and placed on a ventilator.

Dr Doshen Naidoo, Makwande’s paediatrician, said: “While incubating him, I noticed his vocal cords were not mobile. Initially, we assumed this was from hypoxia [lack of oxygen] and birth difficulty, as the umbilical cord was around his neck when he was born. However, he did not have profound hypoxia to have caused his vocal-cord palsies.”

Vocal-cord palsies or paralysis is a rare condition. To correct this, a neo-natal tracheostomy surgery, which had only been done once before in Pietermaritzburg, had to be performed on the baby. It involves suturing the vocal cord open to create an airway. This was done by ear, nose and throat surgeon Dr M.F. Essa, who performed the first neo-natal tracheostomy too.

“The procedure, although successful in creating an airway, did not settle his distress, and it was heartbreaking to hear him crying for breath all day and night,” said Naidoo.

Makwande almost did not survive. He had to be resuscitated three times during his stay at Medi-Clinic. The ordeal was terrifying for his mother, Nombuso Mhlongo.

“I was so scared for my baby that I did not go to the hospital. I did not want to wait in the waiting room. I waited at home, surrounded by family and we prayed for him,” Nombuso told The Witness.

The surgery was a success, but baby Makwande spent 110 days in hospital learning how to breathe on his own and how to swallow. He has a tracheostomy, a device in his chest to assist him to breathe. He is now home with his parents.

“I’m so happy. I can see the progress he has made,” said Nombuso.

“He was dependant on oxygen before. He couldn’t breathe on his own; he couldn’t manage.”

Although the tracheostomy should be removed in the next six months, doctors say it is too soon to tell whether the surgery has affected Makwande’s ability to speak. He will be monitored as he grows and goes through his life’s milestones.

“This little boy fought for his life and never gave up. He showed us how to rise up against the odds. He taught me that no challenge is too big if you follow your heart,” said Naidoo.

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