A premature baby born with her intestines outside of her stomach, has defied the odds to return home from hospital.
Holly Striloff, 33, and her partner Travis Warner, 32, from Kamloops, Canada, welcomed baby Autumn Warner, six weeks early on July 5 by emergency C-section.
Autumn, who is now four months old, was born with gastroschisis, a birth defect that causes a baby's intestines to form on the outside of the body which affects about one out of 2500 babies born in a year.
Shortly after her birth the newborn had to undergo an intense procedure, which saw doctors gradually feed her intestines back into her body, an operation which ultimately saved Autumn's life.
“We found out at 18 weeks pregnant that Autumn had gastroschisis, and I was shocked because it was not something I had ever really heard of before," her mum explains.
“At the time, it was incredibly overwhelming because we were just concerned for her safety."
The condition occurs when muscles of the abdominal wall do not form properly, leaving a hole near the belly button for vital organs to find their way outside of the body.
Autumn weighed just 2lb 12oz when she was born at 31 weeks, with her size making her condition even more difficult to treat.
“The birth was made all the more difficult because she wasn't just battling the effects of gastroschisis," the medical lab assistant adds.
“There are a lot of complications that come with the condition, but she was also not growing and was in the third percentile.
“It has been a chaotic and stressful journey and meant that neither of us really rested much with everything happening.”
It is still relatively unknown what causes gastroschisis in babies, but through the advancement of surgery, the survival rate is around 90% today.
“It requires very well-trained hands to perform the necessary surgeries, but we were put slightly at ease by the assurances made by the team that there was a way to help her," Striloff continues.
“I actually found out more about the condition at first through an episode of Greys Anatomy of all places.”
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The condition can fall into either a simple or complex category when it comes to treatment, with Autumn’s case being the latter, following complications due to her prematurity.
“The simple option essentially can be treated with surgery immediately after birth at the bedside, which is called a full closure," her mother explains.
“This is where the surgeons simply just feed the intestines back into the body and then sew the body back up immediately after.
“The complex option is called a silo procedure and will see a bag being placed over the intestines, which are then hung above the baby on a bar. They are then gradually fed into the body every day over an extended period of time.”
Autumn’s tiny size meant that this option was preferred by the medical team, despite it lasting over 12 days.
“It was incredibly tough to see Autumn in that condition when all we wanted to do is hold her," Striloff says.
“It's unnatural to not be able to hug your baby or take her home to be with her family so a lot of it was just getting over the fact that although she was right by us, we couldn’t do anything with her yet.
“After the 12 days they performed the full closure at the bedside and her intestines were back inside her body.”
Autumn also suffered a multitude of different complications due to the condition, such as a 4cm obstruction in her small intestine which required a second surgery, eight blood transfusions and the usage of both a PICC and art line to administer medication.
In total Autumn was in the NICU for 110 days, and finally came home on 23 October.
“I had been dreaming of the day for the whole time we were there, and it will now always be a really special day for us," Striloff says.
“It was 110 days of sleepless nights, mental exhaustion, trauma, defeat and tears.
“Yet at the same time, it was 110 days of milestones met, love at first sight, excitement and pure joy.
“She now weighs 8lbs and is happy and healthy thanks to the incredible care we received.”
Holly and Travis are already parents to their son Kohen, five, and found great support online by reaching out to families who have also been affected by gastroschisis.
“There are amazing charities like Avery Angels and The Global Gastroschisis Foundation that offer incredible support to families," she adds.
“These support networks were honestly a godsend and can offer advice and comfort when you need it the most.
The couple are also keen to praise the medical staff at the Women’s and Children’s Hospital, in Vancouver, British Columbia.
“Without the incredible care from the surgeons, respiratory therapists and the whole NICU team, Autumn would not be as happy and healthy as she is today, which we are eternally grateful for," Striloff adds.
Additional reporting Caters.