Surgeons at The Royal Children’s Hospital are performing groundbreaking craniofacial surgery and teaching the new technique to surgeons from around the globe.
The operation, dubbed ‘The Melbourne Procedure’, is giving children with severely deformed heads the chance at a normal start to life.
RCH craniofacial surgeon Professor Tony Holmes pioneered the surgery and describes it as “nothing more than advanced carpentry”. While the procedure may have some resemblance to a jigsaw puzzle in the way that the skull is removed in sections, reordered, and reattached to form a normal shaped skull, the effect it can have on a family’s life is far from child’s play.
Bubbly one-year-old Isaac Jones was born with a condition known as scaphocephaly. Derived from the Greek words for ‘boat’ and ‘head’, scaphocephaly saw fusions in the bones at the top of Isaac’s skull that prevented his head from growing sideways. With no room to move, Issac’s growing brain forced his skull to grow longer at the front and back.
Little Isaac could not be more beautiful in the eyes of his parents Lisa and Troy; however, like any parents, the thought of their child being teased because of the shape of his/her head was the last thing they wished for. According to Prof Holmes, the condition can also cause damage to the areas of the brain responsible for speech and motor function.
“We realised for the first time the pressure was not just a cosmetic issue. The restriction on the brain does cause developmental delays and releasing that pressure would seem to improve them,” Prof Holmes said.
A team of plastic and neuro surgeons, led by Mr David Chong, performed the incredible operation on Isaac last week. Isaac’s skull was removed in parts, reordered and moulded, and put back together using dissolvable rivets. The procedure is normally performed on children aged between six and 12 months of age, as their skulls are still pliable.
The results are nothing short of incredible. When his bandages were removed just three days after surgery, Isaac’s head was as round and perfect as any child’s, albeit a little swollen.
“To be on this side of the operation and seeing how he looks and how great his head looks, it is just amazing,” Isaac’s father Troy said.
The RCH has performed almost 100 of the procedures. Prof Holmes and his team are now adapting the procedure to other cranial abnormalities.
Right: Isaac Jones laughs with dad before the surgery. Photo courtesy of the Herald Sun.