Health Beat: Magnet therapy saves baby Willow

The Lamb triplets -- Ilyanna, Gideon, and sleepy little Willow  -- have overcome many obstacles together.

"There is never a dull moment, for sure," said their mother, Trelane Lamb

At 24-weeks pregnant, Lamb was given the news.

"There's a 30 percent chance that Gideon would make it and only I think a 70 percent chance that the girls would make it," Lamb explained.

The preemies came into the world at 27-weeks. Gideon [came] first, then Ilyanna, both weighing just more than two pounds. Willow weighed only 1 pound, 13 ounces. Her fight for survival was about to begin.

"They don't know why it happened," Lamb said. "Because the two girls are identical and nothing is wrong with Ilyanna, but Willow had all these issues."

It began with a rectovaginal fistula.

"They came in and said, 'Well, she doesn't have an anus,' and [I said], 'What does that mean?' They [said], 'We are going to have check, but she does not have a hole,'" Lamb explained.

At 3-days old, a colostomy was created for her anorectal malformation and a G-tube was placed after further testing revealed her esophagus was not connected to her airway.

"She had a tube down her throat that would suck out basically all of her secretions so that she could breathe because she could drown," Lamb said.

Eight months later, Dr. Harold Lovvorn first performed surgery on her esophagus to bring together the upper and lower ends.

"If your esophagus or food tube is interrupted, obviously [you] can't eat," said Lovvorn, pediatric surgeon, Vanderbilt University Medical Center, Nashville, Tenn.

What he'd do next was a first in the United States. Instead of another major surgery to connect them, he used specially designed medical magnets.

"It saves the baby a lot of additional pain, big scars, and big operations," Lovvorn explained.

The non-invasive procedure takes 20 minutes.

"We can place them through her mouth and then through her gastrostomy tube up the lower esophagus, so that they would have their physical attraction for one another," Lovvorn said.  "It's just a matter of sliding it up this way."

The magnets wear away at the tissue between them until they connect, creating a perfectly aligned opening between the two ends of the esophagus. This allows food, saliva and liquid to flow into Willow's body.

"We think her prognosis is excellent," Lovvorn said.

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