Pediatric Triumphs

Mary Bennett: “That’s my tough mark”

Bennett Dudley still breaks down every time he remembers his 3-day-old daughter, Mary Bennett, being driven away from him by ambulance to the Children’s Hospital of Georgia.

An hour before that, he didn’t even know the children’s hospital existed. It was supposed to be a happy, worry-free moment: He and his wife, Mary Rae, were ready to go home and bring their baby home to big sister Emerson Rae, then 2.

But Mary Bennett had been spitting up, and from Saturday to Monday, her weight had dropped about 11 percent—a little high, but not necessarily unexpected for breastfed babies. Then, that morning, she projectile vomited “about four or five feet,” said Bennett. A dye test and an X-ray were definitive: Mary Bennett had been born with a volvulus of the duodenum and malrotation of the intestines.

It happens like this: Near the end of the first trimester, a baby’s developing intestines move from the umbilical cord and rotate into the abdomen, coiling up in the midgut. With malrotation, the small intestine doesn’t rotate normally, falling instead on the right side of the abdomen. A volvulus, or a twist of the intestines, can occur, causing an intestinal blockage, which not only keeps milk from moving through the intestines but can also cut off blood flow.

In a matter of 30 minutes, Mary Bennett had gone from being discharged to needing emergency surgery. When Bennett and Mary Rae arrived at the neonatal intensive care unit on the 5th floor of the Children’s Hospital of Georgia, their 6-pound, brand-new baby was already in an incubator and hooked up to tubes and monitors—“just looking helpless,” said Bennett.

The danger with malrotation and volvulus is that precious abdominal tissue can die due to lack of blood. Dr. Christian Walters, along with pediatric surgeons Dr. Robyn Hatley and Dr. Walter Pipkin, all worked together to perform the delicate, five-hour microsurgery. Meanwhile, the family, friends and their pastor gathered in the NICU waiting room to pray for both the surgical team and for Mary Bennett.

During surgery, Dr. Walters performed a LADD procedure to correct the malrotation, untwisted the duodenum and removed Mary Bennett’s appendix, since it was on the wrong side of her abdomen. Thankfully, her intestinal tissues were pink and healthy. “Our prayers were answered,” said Bennett.

There would be another 20 days of recovery at the children’s hospital, but when Mary Bennett, nearly a month old, went outside for the first time since that ambulance ride, “I remember her smiles and the sparkle in her eyes. She knew she was going home. It was a special moment that we will never forget,” said Bennett.

Now nearly 3, Mary Bennett is a snuggler, which her parents laughingly enable, and she adores her sister, Emerson Rae, now 5, and her “doggies,” Molly and Lucy. She loves to dance, sing and plays with unending energy. But she also knows she had surgery as a baby, and she will often pull up her dress to show off her scar and say, “That’s my tough mark.”

This child—and this story—“It still breaks me down emotionally every time I share it,” Bennett admitted. “We’d never heard of the Children’s Hospital of Georgia until we landed in their arms of care with our precious baby. We are so thankful for our Children’s Hospital of Georgia, their awesome pediatric team, and our little miracle that took place in our own backyard.”