|Condition:||Heart Defect and Scoliosis|
A year into living in a brand new country with your closest friends, family, and support systems thousands of kilometers away, finding out that the baby you’ve been carrying has a heart defect can feel like an absolute nightmare. This was the situation that Olubunmi found herself in a year after moving to Saskatchewan a year prior with her husband Julius and children Adefisayo, David, and their soon-to-be newest arrival, Christina.
A few months into being pregnant with Christina, Olubunmi arrived at her doctor’s office for a routine check-up. What Olubunmi would not expect was the diagnosis of gestational diabetes, a form of diabetes that is developed during pregnancy. With that diagnosis, the tests began to discover the health of Olubunmi’s baby.
Upon months and months of tests and visits to one clinic after another, it was determined by Olubunmi’s medical team that it was certain her baby would be born with a heart defect. Along with the heart defect, Olubunmi’s doctors told her to brace for the reality that her daughter would also be born with down syndrome.
As was the case with her two older children, Olubunmi knew that Christina would enter the world through cesarean section – and that she did. On February 12, 2013 Christina entered the world with a voice and cry so loud it was certain the entire hospital could hear. After examining Christina it was confirmed that the heart defect was certain but that she was born without down syndrome.
At just three months old, Christina took the first step in her medical journey. The family and Christina flew to Vancouver, British Columbia where she would go under the knife for the first time to repair her heart defect. Christina would first have her diaphragm repaired to enable her breathing followed by an open heart surgery a week later to repair her heart.
Nine months later, Olubunmi discovered another major health concern in her daughter. Christina’s back had formed into a curve, a sure sign of scoliosis. Due to her pre-existing heart condition, Christina was not eligible to be put in a back brace as so many other scoliosis patients do. The hope would be that in time, the curvature in her back would decrease or at the very least not progress any further.
Living life with a back condition can be challenging and difficult for the most able of bodies but that never set Christina back in her growth and development. Christina developed an infectiously positive and outgoing personality as she grew up. Although left with a big scar down the middle of her chest and a back that wasn’t quite right, Christina never let that stop her from being a kid.
In July 2022, after there had been no real progression in Christina’s spine, her medical team deemed that she would be fit to be placed in a halo gravity traction. This device is placed on children with a more than 80-degree curve in their spine. A halo gravity traction assists scoliosis patients by gently pulling at their soft tissue to help straighten the spine. However, in order to be attached to the halo gravity traction, Christina underwent a procedure which attached a horseshoe shaped metal bar to her head with the use of pins. The halo gravity traction would then be attached to Christina’s head using weights hung from a rope through a sophisticated pulley system attached to the top of the halo which gently pulls against the child’s body weight to straighten the spine.
In being attached to the halo gravity traction it meant that Christina would be admitted for the entirety of the device’s use – in Christina’s case, two months straight. Christina was admitted as a patient at Saskatchewan’s Jim Pattison Children’s Hospital’s Pediatric Inpatients Unit.
It would be two months before Christina entered the operating room once again, this time to remove her halo and to fuze the vertebrae in her back. After hours spent inside the OR with her medical team, Christina entered the recovery room as a whole new child, one with a spine that was almost completely straight.
In the days after her surgery, Christina shocked her entire medical team with the progress she had made. With minor surgeries, the recovery period where you don’t fully feel like yourself can last days if not longer. With Christina, that period lasted a matter of hours. In no time at all Christina was back to her normal self. She could be seen sprinting up and down the halls of the Pediatric Inpatients Unit, goofing off with her brother David, and singing and dancing as if nothing ever happened.
A large part of Christina’s rapid recovery is due to the halo gravity traction that she was harnessed to. The halo gravity traction was able to decompress the spine and is proven to show a significant improvement in the degree of deformity compared to a regular back brace.
Today, Christina is living life to the absolute fullest. Her personality, outlook on life, and positivity has not wavered through her medical journey. Christina was known around JPCH for her boisterous voice, energy that couldn’t and shouldn’t be contained, and an infectious smile that could brighten even the hardest of days. Christina has had two major surgeries on two of the most vital areas of the human body, the heart and the spine, but none of who she is today would be possible if it weren’t for the exceptional medical care she has gotten from her team along the way.
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