As a new mom, Thea Jackson was overjoyed to give birth to her daughter, Michelle Jackson-Byers, in May 2010. But when the Lakewood resident brought Michelle in for an unrelated issue, nurse practitioner Margaret Quinn, CNP, noticed that the baby's head had grown too much since her last checkup. She also had "sunsetting" eyes, which means they were turned downward, with the whites above the pupils showing.
Margaret instructed Thea to go directly to K. Hovnanian Children's Hospital at Jersey Shore University Medical Center. There, Michelle was examined by pediatric neurosurgeon Thomas Steineke, M.D. He diagnosed her with hydrocephalus, an excess accumulation of cerebrospinal fluid in the brain.
Everyone has fluid in the brain. For most people, that fluid flows through the brain and drains out. But in hydrocephalus, which affects about one in 500 children, the fluid doesn't drain properly. That can cause dangerous swelling in the brain. "If it's not caught early, it can cause significant developmental delays," Dr. Steineke explains.
A CT scan and brain MRI confirmed there was excess fluid in Michelle's brain. Dr. Steineke performed surgery the next morning to insert a shunt, a small plastic tube that would help drain the fluid, and a catheter. "The shunt diverts excess fluid, and the catheter drains it into Michelle's abdomen, where it is absorbed," he explains.
Michelle's prompt diagnosis and treatment helped prevent any serious health effects. That's often the case at K. Hovnanian Children's Hospital, which provides more pediatric specialists than any hospital in the region, including Fellowship trained neurosurgeons like Dr. Steineke.
A few weeks after the shunt was inserted, Michelle developed a shunt infection, a fairly common complication that occurs in up to 20 percent of people. "It's especially common in infants, as their immune system is not yet mature," says Dr. Steineke.
While shunt infections can be very serious, Michelle's was detected quickly, so there were no serious side effects. She was treated with antibiotics for one week in the hospital and then received a new shunt.
"If she had been taken to a hospital that didn't have the same expertise, there might have been a delay in identifying the infection, which might have delayed the diagnosis for days or weeks. That could have been catastrophic," Dr. Steineke says.
Michelle is now home, cooing and just being "her normal self," says Thea, who is thankful every day for the expertise at K. Hovnanian Children's Hospital. "I look back and sometimes can't believe all this happened," she says. "And I thank God for how blessed we were. What if we hadn't had such great doctors?"
Thomas Steineke, M.D.
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