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Changing young lives, one at a time

In one week this July at Kalispell Regional Healthcare, four children’s lives were changed forever. Two older children were relieved from lifelong constipation for the first time, and two babies were saved from years of chronic gastrointestinal problems.

Procedures to cure Hirschsprung’s disease – a rare condition brought on when a baby is born without nerve cells in part of the large intestine, leading to chronic constipation – proved successful in a 9- and 3-year-old and in a 5- and 3-month old. Pediatric surgeon Federico Seifarth, MD, performed the surgeries to bypass the diseased portion of the bowel.

For the 9-year-old, doors were opened that previously had been shut to him. Dr. Seifarth said the youngster’s initial appearance was critical – drawn, with sallow complexion, and thin. The constant constipation suppressed his appetite, which drained his energy and cut his weight, limiting his activity, which further sapped his ability to have bowel movements. When he did, they were painful. Dr. Seifarth mentions that the social isolation a child in such a condition incurs is almost as bad as the disease itself.

Two weeks after the procedure, his transformation was remarkable. He looks healthy; he’s more animated and has regained his joy of life.

“Now his life has changed 180 degrees,” Dr. Seifarth said.

Seifarth credits KRH pediatric gastroenterologist Tom Flass, MD, with making procedures on these children possible because Dr. Flass’ specialized training allowed him to recognize the condition. This twofold change is big news for Montana’s children.

“Now, children not only have access to specialized treatment, but also to specialized diagnostics to recognize rare conditions,” he said.

Hirschsprung’s, also called congenital megacolon, prevents colon walls from being able to relax and pass stool through the large bowel, causing chronic obstruction. It commonly affects only a portion of the colon, but in five percent of cases it affects the entire length. Statistically, Hirschsprung’s occurs once in every 5,000 live births. That translates to only two or three babies a year in Montana.

“So why do we have four at once? Doctors can miss this diagnosis easily because constipation is so common,” Seifarth said, adding that, without highly specialized training, it easily goes undetected. If detected, patients formerly had to leave the state for treatment. “Diagnosing four children in a short time is a reflection of being an underserved state. Not having specialists here means that rare things can go unrecognized and untreated.”

But with the expanding pediatric service line and the array of specialists joining the team at KRH, Seifarth pointed out that this is changing for Montanans.

“We’re experiencing a shift of care in pediatric patients,” he said. And, for the state’s children, that’s a very exciting prospect.

To learn more about pediatric specialty care at KRH, please call (844) 215-7969 toll free.