For several nights during April of 2008, 8-year old Bailey kept waking up, complaining of pains in her stomach. She just couldn’t sleep for any length of time. After a few of these restless nights, her father, Otto, made up a bed near hers so he could monitor her. Shortly thereafter, in the early morning hours, he heard Bailey moving around. When he got to her, he found she had fainted and thrown up. He thought she also had diarrhea, but when he and Kara, Bailey’s mother, got her into the bathroom, they realized it was blood. Kara called 911 and the paramedics rushed Bailey to Sacred Heart where she was immediately given a unit of blood to help stabilize her.
The nearest pediatric gastroenterologist is in Portland. Within two hours of her arrival at Sacred Heart, Bailey was airlifted up to Portland’s Doernbecher Childrens Hospital. Her frantic parents, meanwhile, had to make arrangements for a babysitter for their other children before rushing to the hospital.
Although doctors had a pretty good idea of what Bailey’s symptoms indicated, they still took a couple of days to reach a firm diagnosis. Bailey was found to have “Meckel’s Diverticulum,” a birth defect of the digestive system.
Once her condition was diagnosed, Bailey’s treatment was rapid. She underwent surgery to remove the affected section of her intestine, and remained in the hospital for a week. Her recovery was quick and within three weeks of her surgery, her doctor gave her the “all-clear” to play soccer. Fortunately, Bailey will not have any residual effects from her diagnosis or surgery.
What is Meckel’s Diverticulum?
Meckel’s diverticulum is a small pouch in the wall of the intestine. It occurs when the connection between the intestine and the umbilical cord doesn’t completely close off during fetal development. This pouch is not made of the same type of tissue as the small intestine but of the type found in the stomach or pancreas.
This pouch produces the type of acids made by the stomach. The intestinal lining is sensitive to the acid, and eventually an ulcer can form. This ulcer may perforate, causing waste products from the intestine to leak into the abdomen. The ulcer can cause significant bleeding, resulting in anemia. If enough blood is lost, the child may go into shock, a life-threatening situation.
Although Meckel’s diverticulum is the most common birth defect of the digestive system (it is present in about 2 percent of all infants), most people with the condition will never have any symptoms or problems. The peak age for symptoms to occur is 2 years old, and children over age 10 rarely exhibit symptoms.