Lexi Melton was born seven years ago with no lower jaw.
Unusual symptoms during pregnancy had led her mom, Lisa, to undergo a sonogram at 27 weeks that revealed her baby’s face was not forming properly. Prenatal tests ruled out more common birth defects, so high-risk pregnancy doctors monitored Lisa and the baby until Lexi arrived six weeks early by cesarean section.
A team of physicians at the University of Washington Medical Center, where she was born, and experts from nearby Seattle Children’s whisked Lexi away from her mom immediately so they could place a tube in her nose that would hopefully allow her to breathe.
“Her jaw was really small, and we knew it was part of many genetic syndromes, many of which aren’t life sustaining. We knew there was a high possibility that she would not be able to survive birth,” said Lisa.
Four-pound Lexi made it through delivery and the nasal intubation and a few hours after she was born, a Seattle Children’s neonatal intensive care ambulance transported her to their doors, where experts in pediatric facial and skull malformations were ready to help care for her, said her mom.
Now, after years of surgeries and extraordinary medical and personal efforts to give Lexi a chance at a more normal life, her parents and doctors are telling her story for the first time.
On day three of Lexi’s life, she underwent an operation to create a tracheostomy, a surgically-made hole in the front of the neck that leads to the windpipe (trachea) and allows for breathing in people who can’t do it naturally. Without a developed lower jaw, there was no hinge to help Lexi open and close her mouth and take in air. Also, the compression of the jaw against the airway, and the unusual positioning of the tongue, stopped the air from flowing to the lungs.
“It put a stranglehold on her windpipe,” said her dad, Dave.
The tracheotomy was the first of 11 surgeries in her young life, said Dr. Richard Hopper, Division Chief of Plastic Surgery and Surgical Director of the Craniofacial Center at Seattle Children’s Hospital.
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