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Health Spotlight: Doctors’ fight to save infant born with split esophagus

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — Each week in the United States, almost 70,000 babies are born premature, meaning the child is born before 37 weeks of gestation.

Children born prematurely often experience several issues, including breathing issues and eating problems, but Harper Jacobo, born at 23 weeks, was born with her esophagus split in two.

Harper, and her twin sister Gabriella, were both born weighing less than a third of a pound and could fit in the palms of their mother’s hands.

While both were born small, Harper was given a 1% chance of survival due to the two ends of her esophagus being separated by 7 centimeters, prohibiting her ability to swallow.

Dr. Steven Rothenburg, a pediatric surgeon at Rocky Mountain Hospital for Children, and his team performed three surgeries to connect Harper’s esophagus.

The first surgery Rothenburg’s team performed attempted to draw together the two ends of her esophagus, but there was still a one-inch gap between the ends after the surgery.

The second operation included Rothenburg taking a part of Harper’s chest wall to create a bandaid between the ends, which closed the gap to half an inch. To close the final gap, magnets specially approved by the FDA were used to bring the ends together.

“We put one magnet down her mouth and into the upper part of her esophagus, and put the other magnet through her gastronomy tube. Over the next few days, the magnets gradually attracted to each other,” Rothenburg said.

After the gap was completely closed, doctors pulled the magnets up through Harper’s mouth. Despite her delay, doctors believe Harper will be able to eat and swallow like any other child when she grows up.

Harper is said to be the smallest baby to ever survive a separate esophagus.