Baby born with rare diaphragm condition continues beating the odds

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PITTSBURGH —

Doctors at Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh started treating little Brock Gerlach before he was even born.

Brock, 7 weeks, was born with a congenital diaphragmatic hernia, or CDH, a condition in which the diaphragm doesn't correctly form.

"We found out that he had CDH from the ultrasound. I was 27 weeks," said his mother, Jennifer.

"It really didn't mean anything to us. We were stunned. We really weren't sure what it was," his father, Edward, said. "Pretty much told me he didn't have any chance at survival."

About one in every 2,500 children born has the disorder. Doctors at Children's treat about a dozen CDH patients a year.

"When he was developed and he was born, his liver, his stomach and his intestines were all up in the left side of his chest where his lungs should be," explained neonatologist Dr. William McCarran. "With those organs being in the way of his lungs, his lungs don't have the opportunity to grow and develop."

The infant has already endured three surgeries.

"It's a very complicated problem that requires intensive medical care and operations to put those organs back where they need to go," said McCarran.

Brock's condition required immediate attention. As soon as he was born, he was placed in an incubator and rushed to Children's Hospital.

"I only got to see him for a minute, and it broke my heart because I couldn't touch him. I couldn't hold him," said his mother.

Doctors first put a breathing tube in Brock, and then placed him on a ventilator.

When those failed to help, they opted for ECMO, a machine that is basically a heart-lung bypass for babies.

"He's a miracle baby because the national survival rate of patients who require ECMO who have CDH is somewhere in the range of 40-45 percent," explained Dr. Beverly Brozanski, the clinical director of NICU. "We don't use that therapy unless we're pretty sure that the baby won't survive without it."

But the miracle baby has beaten the odds, something his doctors say he's been doing since the moment he was born.

"Brock was pretty tough all along and I think there are indications, even on that first day before he went on heart-lung bypass, that he has what it takes," said Dr. McCarran. "Everything that we throw at him he gets through."

"We know he's going to make it now. He's just fabulous. Everything he's been through, it's just a matter of time now. Just a matter of time," said Edward Gerlach.

"It's been a long road. But you know what? We can do this. He's going to be fine," his mom said.

Doctors said Brock can be discharged once he starts eating on his own, but he will need more followups.

His parents hope to have their son home for Thanksgiving.