Local doctors find life-saving treatment for medical mystery



PITTSBURGH - One-year-old Liam Valasek looks and acts like your typical toddler, so you'd never know by looking at the healthy boy with the bright blue eyes and big smile that he was so sick before he was born that neither doctors nor Liam's parents knew if he would survive.

"The entire pregnancy I was anxious and on edge with everything," said his mother Fran Valasek.

An ultrasound detected a major problem with Fran's pregnancy in her 24th week.

Her unborn child had fluid in his abdomen, chest and heart.

On top of that, he wasn't making any blood, a condition doctors had never seen before.

"Liam was passing when we met him so he really needed blood and he needed it in a critical way," said Dr. Stephen Emery, the director of the Fetal Diagnosis and Treatment Center at UPMC Magee-Women's Hospital.

The news made Fran and Bill Valasek's hearts drop.

They had previously lost a child in Fran's 26th week.

"It was 12 hours of labor for a stillbirth. It was really sad to hold a little lifeless baby like that" she said.

"All of the uncertainty. All of the miserable feelings. Every piece of hurt just rushed back in," recalled her husband Bill.

Doctors at Magee turned into detectives and learned both unborn children had the same symptoms, but they couldn't pinpoint why it was happening.

"He was a mystery the whole way through," said Emery

Emery told the couple the best option to save their son would be blood transfusions while Liam was still in the womb.

"The needle comes into Fran's abdomen and then into Liam's abdomen into the umbilical vein as it travels up the belly button up toward the heart," he said as he showed Channel 11 images of the procedure. "You can see that the needle is within the umbilical vein and you can see the blood streaming as we transfuse."

Fran had the procedure done five times, and each time her unborn child responded well.

Still, doctors were not sure if it would save Liam or if he would be born with serious medical ailments.

Yet Liam came into this world relatively healthy.

"He was just precious. The most perfect baby I'd ever seen, beside my daughter Julia," said Fran Valasek.

Liam underwent two more blood transfusions after he was born and amazingly has made a complete recovery.

"From what I understand Liam will never know. He will never know how sick he was," said Emery.

Doctors are still trying to figure out why he became so sick and call Liam a little medical mystery.

His parents have another phrase.

"A miracle. Definitely. Absolutely," they said.