One of the most amazing feelings for a new parent happens the moment they look into their baby’s eyes for the first time. We count fingers and toes, check for signs of a birth defect, and bask in the joy of the moment.
But Valeka Riegel sadly could not experience this joy for months after giving birth.
Her baby boy Zakary was born with a birth defect that caused a huge mass to cover more than half of his face, including his eyes.
The birth defect, known as an encephalocele, resulted in a sac that spanned nearly his entire face – from his forehead to his upper lip.
The defect was first detected when Riegel came in for her fifth month ultrasound. Doctors initially suspected it was a cyst on her baby’s cheek. But after an MRI, they found that it was a rare birth defect.
An encephalocele occurs when a baby’s skull does not close normally during development. Because of this, a gap allows brain tissue to escape and collect in a sac-like protrusion.
Baby Zakary spent four months in the NICU to prepare for the nine-hour surgery…
Baby Zakary was delivered via a C-section at the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center by a team of 22 doctors on December 2016.
Upon seeing her little one for the first time, Kiegel admitted in a blog entry on the hospital’s website that she was in shock.
“Only a large protrusion and tiny little lips — no eyes, no nose, no eyelashes. Yet you were still beautiful to me,” wrote Kiegel.
She was worried he would have difficulty breathing.
After a nine-hour surgery, including a craniotomy, encephalocele removal and repair, they faced other hurdles.
Baby Zakary is now a year old, thriving and free of the birth defect
The procedure included reducing the swelling and removing the breathing tube. After five days, and countless hours clocked in by dedicated hospital staff, they headed home.
“I don’t know what lies ahead for our journey, but I do know we will cherish every moment we are granted together,” the overjoyed mum wrote.
“We can endure all things if we are willing to accept life as it truly is – perfectly imperfect,” she went on.
As of this writing, Baby Zakary is now a year old and thriving after surgery. Though he has some catching up to do developmentally, he will no longer need neurological intervention.
He will only need one minor surgery to remove excess skin on his face. With a positive attitude and loving parents, we have no doubt Zakary will grow up handsome inside and out!
sources: TODAY, Cincinnati Children’s Hospital
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