Helping babies born with vascular malformations

LOS ANGELES -- Every eight seconds a baby is born in the U.S. That means almost four million little boys or girls will be born in 2020. For most, the delivery will be textbook. But what if it isn’t? We met a little boy who came into this world with something quite unexpected and things turned out better than anyone ever thought possible.

Oliver’s dad vividly remembers his son’s birth.

“I remember the doctor saying to me, all right Dad, get your camera ready. Pretty shortly thereafter that's when sort of the air was taken out of the room and I said have you ever seen something like this before? And, she said no,” Peter Heilbron described.

“It was so large that his, his arm was completely elevated up over his head and it was stuck in that position,” he told Ivanhoe.

The 12-ounce mass was a lymphatic malformation.

“When a lymphatic malformation develops those, instead of those lymphatic channels developing as tiny little tubes, they develop like little bubbles or balloons,” Dean Anselmo, MD, Co-Director of the Vascular Anomalies Center at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, explained.

Dr. Anselmo’s facility is one of the few in the country that uses sclerotherapy for vascular malformations.

“I kind of describe it like if you put super glue inside a balloon and then try to fill it up with water. It can’t. It won’t fill up,” he said.

Using a needle, doctors injected a special medication into the cyst that causes the wall to collapse. It took three consecutive treatments to reduce Oliver’s malformation from this to this.

Left with a surgical scar that’s barely visible and full use of this right arm.

“So, there are days where I look at him and I see his tiny little remnant of a scar and I'm like, I can't believe that, that is not how he was born,” Jennifer Heilbron said.

These types of malformations develop between four to six weeks of gestation, and often cannot be seen during a prenatal ultrasound.

Twenty years ago, this story may have a different ending for Oliver. Surgeons would have immediately cut the cyst off often leading to a reoccurrence of the malformation or causing problems that could last a lifetime.

Children’s Hospital Los Angeles is one of ten multi-disciplinary vascular anomaly centers in the United States. Luckily, the Heilbrons live less than an hour away.