Oliver Breathes on His Own Thanks to ENT Specialists

Oliver was just four months old when he was transferred from a hospital outside of Chicago to Lurie Children’s. Born at just 26 weeks, Oliver was tiny with an underdeveloped diaphragm, lungs and a condition called subglottic stenosis, or a narrow windpipe. 

Doctors told his parents, Sabrina and John, that Oliver would need a tracheostomy tube so he could breathe easily and grow. 

“The tracheostomy tube was one thing I was praying we did not have to do,” Sabrina recalled. 

But at Lurie Children’s, the family connected with Dr. Taher Valika, a pediatric ENT surgeon and medical director of the Aerodigestive Program at Lurie Children’s, which cares for babies and kids like Oliver with complex breathing issues. 

Dr. Valika told the family he had another option to offer them – a surgery that could help repair Oliver’s airway and avoid a tracheostomy tube altogether. 

The procedure, called a Cricoid Split, can be used for newborns who are born prematurely with underdeveloped airways. Surgeons make cuts in the area of the airway where it is especially tight, then dilate the area, guiding it to scar in a controlled fashion that makes the airway permanently bigger. 

Dr. Valika and Dr. Saied Ghadersohi, another ENT surgeon at Lurie Children’s and director of the hospital’s Complex Sleep Program, are both members of the Complex Airway Team who helped manage Oliver’s care. This team encompasses a niche group of airway surgeons who offer the rare and complicated surgical procedure within the Chicagoland region.    

Oliver was five months old when he underwent the procedure. After that, he spent several weeks in the Lurie Children’s Neonatal Intensive Care Unit recovering. While it was “rough seeing him like that,” Sabrina said, she and John were encouraged by Dr. Valika’s warmth and expertise, and his certainty that the procedure had gone well.  

Oliver woke up from the procedure “happy and smiling again,” Sabrina recalled. Sure enough, the procedure ensured he did not need a tracheostomy tube and could instead breathe on his own. 

While Oliver spent a few more months in the hospital to complete his full journey to recovery – including his first Thanksgiving and Christmas – he healed well, and by the age of nine months, he was finally able to go home for the first time since he was born. Clad in a graduation cap, the Lurie Children’s NICU team and Dr. Valika celebrated his long-awaited departure from the hospital. 

“It was such a special day,” Sabrina said. “We have been so blessed.” 

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