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Surgery to Save Filipino Baby From Deformity


SANTA ANA — To save a Filipino baby from a serious deformity, two Orange County charitable organizations and a local hospital pooled resources to bring the boy to this country for a sophisticated brain surgery procedure not available in the Philippines.

Edison Lawrence Gonzales, 5 1/2 months old, is scheduled to undergo surgery today at Western Medical Center-Santa Ana to correct a rare cranial complication called craniosynostosis. The phenomenon is caused by the premature fusion of the baby's "soft spot," which causes the brain to grow in the wrong direction.

The early fusion of these sutures--little bones that form together like thread--atop the baby's head results in brain damage and cranial deformity if not corrected, doctors said Tuesday. Normally, an infant's soft spot does not close until about age 18 months, said Michael H. Sukoff, a neurosurgeon who will be performing the delicate operation.

"It's like Charlie Brown's head," Sukoff explained. "Charlie Brown has a big head and a flat face, similar to what Edison would have."

The operation costs between $40,000 and $60,000, hospital officials said. But the Gonzales family will not have to pay for the travel or medical costs, thanks in large part to a Westminster volunteer group called Pointes of Light.

Nancy Fontaine, director and founder of Pointes of Light, said she learned about six weeks ago about the diagnosis, and that Edison could not receive proper treatment in the Philippines.

Fontaine said she immediately began contacting area hospitals to see which one would perform the surgery free of cost, and Western Medical Center accepted the case. Sukoff said the hospital accepts two or three charity cases a year involving babies in need of complicated and expensive medical care.

Meanwhile, the Make-a-Wish Foundation, a national organization that aids sick and dying children, paid for airline tickets for Edison and his parents, Myrna and Eduardo Gonzales.

The parents are still a little stunned by their sudden good fortune in finding a hospital that will treat their son. "It's like a dream," Myrna Gonzales said. "I'm very grateful for all these things. In the Philippines you would never get all this, with everything being free."

While at the hospital Tuesday, the woman gazed down at her cherubic son as he gnawed on his pacifier and attempted to balance himself on his chubby legs. She said she finds it hard to believe her chortling, seemingly healthy baby must undergo potentially life-threatening surgery.

"He's so normal," said Gonzales, who is spending her first week ever outside of the Philippines. "It's very hard to believe that something is wrong."

The boy, with his deep dimples and pudgy cheeks, looks like any other baby right now, except for a barely discernible flattening of the front of his head. During the surgery, the doctor will attempt to separate two sutures that have already closed in the front of the boy's cranium, causing his brain to push back and up.

Two weeks after surgery, Edison's head should begin to reshape into a normal oval shape, Sukoff said, as the brain begins normal growth. Total recovery should be occur by the time Edison reaches the age of 2, he said. The operation has more than a 90% success rate, he added.

Sukoff said about four children in 10,000 get craniosynostosis. The doctor, who has performed more than 50 similar surgeries, said the deformity develops slowly, but has devastating effects if left untreated.

"Edison would grow up to look abnormal, even ugly" without the surgery, he said. Although his brain is pushing out of shape, Sukoff said the bright-eyed infant is not suffering any pain.

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