Last week, 3-week-old Ashlyn Julian’s life was saved when a team of doctors from the University of Kansas Hospital performed a miraculous surgery with a seemingly common household item, superglue.
Shortly after baby Ashlyn was born, she experienced a brain hemorrhage. An MRI performed at Children’s Mercy Hospital revealed an olive-sized brain aneurysm. This condition is so rare in infants that pediatric tools are not even available to treat it. After Ashlyn experienced a second hemorrhage, doctors knew they had to act fast but feared the traditional treatment, opening the patient’s skull, would be risky on an infant. Instead, they decided to treat the aneurysm from the inside.
Leading the team of doctors who saved Ashlyn was pediatric neurosurgeon, Koji Ebersole. Using a microcatheter inserted into the baby’s femoral artery, Dr. Ebersole was able to thread the catheter into the brain where a small amount of sterile surgical glue was applied to the aneurysm. To aid in visualization, doctors used a sophisticated monitor that highlights arteries and blood vessels so they could see their route. Once applied, the glue dried instantly, sealing the aneurysm. Doctors believe once the blood spilled from the aneurysm is drained, Ashlyn will go on to live a normal life without complications. She has since been transferred to Children’s Mercy Hospital where she will continue to be closely monitored by the team, and her grateful parents.
Doctors at KU consider this to be a groundbreaking procedure, with less than 20 surgeries of its kind ever recorded in medical literature. While the procedure itself and the decision to use superglue to treat this brain anomaly may be groundbreaking in the heartland, on the east coast, the original visionary performs this surgery and those like it every week to treat other rare conditions of the brain. His name is Dr. Alejandro Berenstein, and he saved my daughter’s life.
When it comes to treating venous malformations, including the granddaddy of them all, vein of Galen malformation, Dr. Berenstein is a pioneer in his field. During a TEDMED Talk on CNN in September 2011, Dr. Berenstein explained how he came up with the idea to use super glue in a procedure called embolization, as a way to close off vessels and restore normal blood flow. He even admits that in the1970s when he was perfecting his technique, he often sent his staff to pull Krazy Glue off store shelves, though now he uses a sterile surgical glue instead.
On four separate occasions I traveled from my home in Kansas to New York where Dr. Berenstein and his team delicately deposited super glue into my daughter’s brain. Today she is eight years old, completely cured and aside from prominent facial veins, has no lasting side effects from the disorder or her operations. Five years ago we had no local alternatives but now, after the groundbreaking surgery of Ashlyn Julian, I have renewed hope that Dr. Berenstein’s technique is slowly making its way across the country, and saving lives.