Ithaca Baby Beats "Condition Incompatible with Life"

His family will share its heartwarming story during Miracle Weekend

May 30, 2001

Hours after Austin Lamb was born, doctors at Children's Hospital at Strong in Rochester described the premature baby's condition as grave. Without specialized surgery, the newborn would die.

That was in August 2000. Less than a year later, Austin Lamb has undergone four major re-constructive surgeries to make his gastrointestinal system - among other parts of his body - function as it should. His physicians expect him to make a full recovery.

As part of its Miracle Weekend celebration May 31 to June 3, Children's Hospital at Strong is honoring five children - including Austin - as Miracle Kids. Each child overcame significant health problems while being treated at Children's Hospital at Strong.

Austin's Story

On Aug. 16, 2000, some two months before she was due to give birth to her first child, Sally Lamb suddenly went into labor. Because she wasn't due until October, Lamb was transferred from Cayuga Medical Center in Ithaca to Arnot-Ogden Hospital in Elmira, where she delivered a baby boy.

Lamb didn't have long to savor the moment. Although her prenatal ultrasounds gave every indication that her baby was developing normally, the newborn was not well.

Realizing the need for a highly specialized intensive care unit and pediatric surgeons, doctors at Arnot-Ogden called Children's Hospital at Strong in Rochester.

Within hours, a team of doctors and nurses made its way via ambulance from Rochester to Elmira to get Austin. Known as the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) Transport Team, it frequently transports critically ill infants in need of the highly specialized care offered by Children's Hospital at Strong from other hospitals in Western and Central New York.

"I went from a sense of elation - just so happy that he was alive and the birth went well - to thinking, 'This is going to be a long haul.' It was a really dark moment." Lamb recalls. "I only got to hold Austin for a few seconds after he was born."

When Austin arrived at Children's Hospital at Strong, the NICU staff immediately began caring for him. His case was complex because he was two months premature, but also suffering from the complications of his birth defects.

Austin was examined by a team of specialists, including neonatologists, pediatric surgeons, geneticists, and cardiologists. The NICU staff - a team of more than 150 doctors, nurses, technicians, respiratory therapists, and social workers - was responsible for keeping Austin alive before and after surgery was performed. They also helped his family deal with the sudden turn of events.

"Although Austin's biggest problems were surgical, he was confronted with many of the problems commonly associated with such a premature birth," says Robert Swantz, M.D., associate medical director the NICU. "For instance, because he was born so early, Austin had immature lungs. His body wasn't fully developed."

Walter Pegoli Jr., chief of pediatric surgery at Children's Hospital at Strong, called Austin's father, Daniel, shortly after the infant arrived in Rochester. Daniel Lamb was still in Elmira, where his wife was recovering from labor. Pegoli was forthright with the first-time father, explaining that Austin faced "a condition incompatible with life."

Austin was born with what is called VATER Syndrome, a group of birth defects commonly associated with one another. Children who have VATER Syndrome usually are born with at least two of the following, but not all:

  • V - Vertebrae problems. For example, abnormally formed vertebrae or extra ribs.
  • A - Anal or rectal anomalies. For example, Austin was born with an imperforate Anus, where there is no opening where the anus should be.
  • T - Trachea (windpipe) problems. For example, Austin was born with a connection between the trachea and esophagus, called a tracheal esophageal fistula.
  • E - Esophagus (tube from mouth to stomach) problems. For example, Austin was missing part of the esophagus, a condition called esophageal atresia.
  • R - Radius (lower arm bone) and/or renal (kidney) problems. For example, in some children, the larger lower arm bone is abnormally formed or a thumb is missing. Others may have an abnormally formed kidney. Austin is missing a kidney.

When he was only two days old, Austin was taken to the operating room for the first of many surgeries. Pegoli repaired the tracheal esophageal fistula (the connection between the windpipe and the tube connecting the mouth to the stomach) and the esophageal atresia by connecting the esophagus to the stomach.

Next, a colostomy - in which the large bowel is brought to the outside of the body - was created because of Austin's imperforate anus. A gastrostomy tube - inserted into the stomach through the abdominal wall - was also placed in order to feed Austin while his esophagus healed from surgery.

The surgery had its share of tense moments. Austin had problems in the operating room and needed CPR. When the operation was completed, Austin returned to the NICU, where the staff continued to provide intensive care. Ten days later, his abdomen was enlarged. Although the areas of surgery looked fine, the small intestine did not.

"An emergency operation was performed, and we found a hole in his small bowel," Pegoli explains. "We repaired this and gave Austin another ostomy, this one made of the ileum, or small bowel."

During the next two months in the NICU, Austin made steady progress, but he still experienced respiratory problems. It wasn't until Oct. 5 that he could breathe without the aid of ventilator. Austin was also experiencing problems gaining weight, so the family and medical staff decided to close Austin's illeostomy (small-bowel ostomy).

In November, Austin was taken to the operating room for a third time. The surgery went well and he soon began gaining weight. His stomach tube was removed before he was discharged from the NICU on Nov. 16, 2000.

At a follow-up visit, Austin's parents agreed that Pegoli should perform surgery to repair Austin's anus. On Feb. 2, 2001, the infant underwent successful Posterior Sagittal Anal Rectoplasty.

"Austin did very well after this surgery and continues to do well," Pegoli says

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