March 15, 2002

VUMC benefits from March of Dimes event

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Dr. Barbara Murphy consults with Dr. Brian Burkey, a surgeon, about a patient. Murphy and radiation oncologist Dr. Anthony Cmelak hold clinic with the surgeons, increasing options for patients. (photo by Dana Johnson)

VUMC benefits from March of Dimes event

Michael Turnipseed is a living example of March of Dimes dollars at work. Born April 30, 2000, he weighed just 520 grams or 1 pound, 2 ounces. Now, more than a year later, Michael weighs 14 pounds and is the 2002 Music City Ambassador for the March of Dimes WalkAmerica.

Thanks in part to the research done by the March of Dimes on prematurity, babies like Michael can lead a healthy, happy life. The March of Dimes is a national voluntary health agency whose mission is to improve the health of babies by preventing birth defects and infant mortality.

Michael’s health problems began after his premature birth. Doctors soon learned that he had experienced intrauterine growth restriction and had a heart condition, Tetralogy of Fallot, a serious type of congenital heart disease that includes four specific types of heart defects. The combination of defects, including a hole in the wall of the heart between the two lower chambers, results in a reduced blood flow to the lungs and requires surgery.

The list of complications within his tiny body was overwhelming for his parents, Jackie and Michael Turnipseed of Lebanon, Tenn.

“I don’t think the real fear about his condition set in until I heard about the heart condition,” said Jackie. “The doctors really didn’t expect Michael to make it.”

In order to do the Tetralogy repair, Michael needed to be weaned from the respirator, but he needed the breathing assistance until he was 6 weeks old. At three months, after Michael had reached 5 pounds, Dr. Davis C. Drinkwater Jr., William S. Stoney Jr. Chair of Cardiac and Thoracic Surgery, was able to perform the surgery to repair Michael’s heart condition.

“Our prognosis to the family, when we were asked to evaluate Michael’s heart in the first hours of life, was very guarded, because the lung damage expected to result from the prematurity would make repair very risky, even when he had achieved adequate size,” said Dr. Frank Fish, associate professor of Pediatrics.

Fish said the residual hole left in Michael’s heart “might have been a blessing in disguise,” allowing the infant to maintain good blood pressure to the body as the right side of his heart recovered enough to pump blood through his lungs during the critical post-operative period.

“He has done remarkably well since going home and should have an excellent cardiac prognosis for many years to come,” Fish said.

Dr. William F. Walsh, professor of Pediatrics and chief of Nurseries, said that the combination of Michael’s size and his heart condition made survival especially difficult.

“I am very pleased that Michael is doing well. He is particularly miraculous because he was not only small, but he had a serious congenital heart disease which makes survival doubly unlikely,” Walsh said. “The smallest baby we’ve had survive here is 455 grams although I’ve seen reports from other places of very small 350-gram survivors,” Walsh said.

Walsh said that Michael’s gestational age (25 weeks) helped his chances. “We do not have many survivors under 23 weeks. Survival statistics at 25 weeks are 80 percent. There are no numbers for 25-week, 500-gram infants with congenital heart disease.”

March of Dimes helps Vanderbilt researchers

Over the last few years, Vanderbilt has received more than $1 million from March of Dimes to fund research for birth defects and childhood diseases.

Research leading to the first successful fetal surgery to correct birth defects was funded by the March of Dimes. Vanderbilt has become a national leader in the field of in utero surgery for spina bifida, performing more than 120 surgeries in an attempt to minimize the damage to fetuses while still developing in the womb. Dr. Joseph Bruner, associate professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology and director of Fetal Diagnosis and Therapy, and Dr. Noel Tuplian, professor of Neurological Surgery and director of Pediatric Neurosurgery, pioneered fetal surgery to repair spina bifida. They are both working with other medical centers across the United States to establish fetal surgery centers.

Walkers needed

This year Vanderbilt organizers for the 2002 March of Dimes WalkAmerica have set a goal of raising $15,000 and having 200 walkers from Vanderbilt. The 5-mile walk is set for Sunday, April 28; with walkers gathering at noon at the Centennial Park band shell for a 1 p.m. start time.

If you are interested in walking or organizing a team, contact Cheryl Major, 2-6798; Kim Kane, 3-5674; or Jill Forbert, 6-0301.

Deadline for submitting teams is April 1.