Stefanie clearly remembers how tense she felt when an abnormality surfaced during her baby’s 20-week ultrasound, showing that her son had a swollen kidney.
“It was really scary at first,” she said. “My first son had absolutely no issues, so any time an issue comes up, you’re concerned, of course.”
Her Chicago obstetrician referred her to Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago to learn more about the baby’s condition and what to expect. Stefanie and her husband Andrew met with Dr. Edward Gong, an expert in treating unborn children with urologic conditions, who was able to provide the family with prenatal counseling. Dr. Gong is the codirector of fetal urology at The Chicago Institute for Fetal Health at Lurie Children’s and an attending physician and surgeon at the hospital. He is also a professor of urology at Northwestern Feinberg School of Medicine.
The family learned their baby had a condition called ureteropelvic junction obstruction, or UPJ, in which urine gets backed up due to a blockage where the body’s kidney meets the ureter, or the tube that carries urine to the bladder. The collected urine in the kidney can cause hydronephrosis, or a dilated kidney, like Stefanie’s son had. Dr. Gong would monitor Stefanie and her son’s condition before and after birth because sometimes UPJ can resolve itself. But in some cases, surgical intervention is needed to prevent permanent kidney damage.
“Dr. Gong gave us a rundown of the severity of the issue, laying out what the next steps would be after the baby was born,” said Stefanie. “Just knowing there was a clear path ahead for us was comforting.”
A month after her son Henry was born, an ultrasound at Lurie Children’s that showed that the blockage remained. Dr. Gong told the family Henry may benefit from surgery that could correct the blockage and allow urine in his body to drain freely. Henry’s body was strong enough to wait until he was three months old for the surgery, an age when it’s safe to perform laparoscopic, or minimally invasive, surgery.
At Lurie Children’s, specially trained surgeons like Dr. Gong can offer a minimally invasive surgery called robotic pyeloplasty to correct Henry’s condition. In pyeloplasty, surgeons precisely identify and remove the area of blockage, then reattach the healthy part of the kidney pelvis to the healthy ureter.
In the pyeloplasty that Henry endured, Dr. Gong used a robot-assisted system, which is well-suited for complex intra-abdominal procedures and reconstructive urological surgery. This kind of surgery often results in less pain, because the incisions are tiny. Patients such as Henry, as young as three months old, can usually go home and are back to normal activities in a couple of days.
“It’s scary with a three-month-old to have them go under anesthesia so young,” said Stefanie. “I feel very grateful we have such a world-class facility in our backyard, because it really gave us the reassurance that we would have the best providers caring for Henry.”
Stefanie was able to take Henry home the day after the five-hour procedure.
“He was back to normal within 24 hours,” she said.
Her baby probably won’t need any other surgeries and is likely to retain full urologic function as he grows up. Now six months old, Henry is meeting milestones on time and is a happy baby, fascinated by his older brother, Stefanie said.
“There’s no other hospital nearby that would be on par with Lurie Children’s Hospital,” she said.