Lori and Clay Smothers were overjoyed. They finally got the news they had been hoping and praying for: they were expecting a baby.
Their excitement quickly turned to fear when an omphalocele — a birth defect of the abdominal wall causing some organs to grow outside the body — was identified on a 12-week ultrasound.
As a veteran nurse of 20 years, Lori was accustomed to caring for people, yet now Lori and her son were the patients who needed expert care. During her second trimester, she was referred to Le Bonheur Children’s Fetal Center.
“From the moment I walked through the door of the Fetal Center Clinic, I had a whole new attitude. I went from being terrified to feeling at peace and comforted that my baby was going to be ok,” Lori said. “The way things were explained by the medical team at Le Bonheur made all the difference and everything looked reassuring from his monitoring and labs.”
At Le Bonheur’s Fetal Center, Maternal-Fetal Medicine Specialist Norman Meyer, MD, PhD, began the coordination of care for Lori and her baby bringing together all the specialists needed for a smooth delivery, continuity of care after birth and the management (and eventual close) of the omphalocele.
“Because of the way the Fetal Center operates, we have access to all pediatric subspecialties for our patients to see in one visit and provide support to intervene as soon as needed,” said Meyer. “We were really concerned because Easton’s omphalocele was very large with a lot of fluid accumulation, so it was important to have immediate access to pediatric subspecialists.”
Lori underwent extra monitoring including fetal echocardiograms and ultrasounds to ensure her son was growing. She visited the Fetal Center every two weeks until 35 weeks gestation when visits increased to two appointments per week.
The Fetal Center worked with obstetricians, surgeons and other pediatric specialists to ensure a seamless delivery for Lori and a plan of care ready to implement the moment of Easton’s birth. She met with surgeons who would be with her and Easton from before his birth until the omphalocele was finally closed.
Meyer and his team continued to follow Lori and Easton closely to make sure that their condition did not change prior to delivery.
The night before their son was born, Lori and Clay traveled to Memphis from their Martin, Tenn., home and were able to stay at FedExFamilyHouse — lodging located across the street from Le Bonheur — free of charge. FedExFamilyHouse is home to many of the families who visit the Fetal Center at Le Bonheur Children’s.
Lori delivered nearby at Regional One Hospital in Memphis and her son, Easton, was transferred to Le Bonheur’s Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) via Pediflite when he was only an hour old. Easton received critical care at Le Bonheur, and Lori and Clay learned how to care for their son’s omphalocele and change his bandages.
Meyer and the Fetal Medicine team transitioned Easton’s care to the pediatric subspecialists who cared for him until the time came to close his omphalocele.
“After delivery, the neonatologists and pediatric subspecialists take over the care of our patients like Easton. The Fetal Center’s job was to get Lori and Easton as far along as possible so that surgeons would have a better time and not have to worry about complications related to premature birth,” said Meyer.
Easton spent two months in the NICU receiving expert care. Once discharged, Easton and his family returned to Le Bonheur every two weeks due to the complex nature of his omphalocele.
When Easton was 19 months old, his surgeon — who had monitored Easton since he was in utero — determined he was ready for surgery to repair his omphalocele.
Easton’s surgery was a success. His omphalocele was closed, his hernia was repaired and he was able to undergo a circumcision. Two days later, Easton was pulling a red wagon down the halls of Le Bonheur.
“It was really amazing. Easton’s omphalocele was one of the worst, and to see this kid now, he doesn’t even have much of a scar,” said Meyer. “It’s amazing what pediatric surgeons can do and the teamwork across specialties that make outcomes like this possible.”
Today, 5-year-old Easton is thriving. He loves being outside with his father, Clay, especially when they are hunting and fishing.
Easton was discharged from surgical follow-up care at Le Bonheur in 2021 and receives checkups for his ears with a pediatric otolaryngologist at Le Bonheur’s Jackson Outpatient Center.
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