YOUR HEALTH: A better way to treat little Oliver

We met a little boy who came into this world with something quite unexpected and things turned out better than anyone ever thought possible
Credit: Ivanhoe Broadcast

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

"I remember, probably most vividly, was the doctor saying to me, 'All right dad, get your camera ready'," recalled Peter Heilbron. "Pretty shortly thereafter that's when sort of the air was taken out of the room.  She said 'no.'"

Oliver was born with a large, soft cystic mass under his armpit.

"It was so large that his, his arm was completely elevated up over his head and it was stuck in that position," said Dr. Dean Alselmo, pediatric surgeon with Children's Hospital Los Angeles.

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," Dr. Alselmo explained.

Dr. Anlselmo is the co-director of the vascular abnormalities center at Children's Hospital Los Angeles, one of the few in the country that uses sclerotherapy for vascular malformations.

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

"I kind of describe it like if you put super glue inside a balloon and then try to fill it up with water.  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.

He's now left with a surgical scar that's barely visible and has 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 this is that, that is not how he was born'," said Oliver's mother, Jennifer Heilbron.

Twenty years ago, this story may have a different ending for Oliver. 

Surgeons would have immediately cut the cyst off often leading to a re-occurrence 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.  Another is located at the University of Chicago Medical Center's Comer Children's Hospital.

If this story has impacted your life or prompted you or someone you know to seek or change treatments, please let us know by contacting Jim Mertens at jim.mertens@wqad.com or Marjorie Bekaert Thomas at mthomas@ivanhoe.com.