Wren Halloran’s favorite teddy bear has a scar, a zig-zag of stitches across the top of his furry brown head.
Maybe that’s why the smiley 9-month-old bonded with her bear, a gift from staff at her Spectrum Health Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital surgeon’s office.
As a craniosynostosis patient, little Wren also has a surgical scar on her head, with zig-zag stitches.
Wren was born April 29 with a misshapen head because the growth plates in her skull, which normally float free, prematurely fused together. This risked putting abnormal pressure on her developing brain.
The revelation came as a shock to Wren’s parents, Emily and Chris Halloran of Norton Shores.
At birth, a pediatrician noticed the condition, and referred Wren to Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital pediatric plastic surgeon John Girotto, MD.
“I’m an optimistic person so I thought it wasn’t going to be that big of a deal, she would just have to wear a helmet and it will be fine,” Emily said. “My husband was like, ‘Oh my gosh, is she going to have to get her head cut open?’”
She did. Dr. Girotto performed the four-hour surgery in late August.
“They cut open her head and took a strip of her skull out,” Emily said. “A lot of times, and in Wren’s case, the brain starts to reshape itself in the new room that it has. A lot of the results happened immediately in that surgery. Another 30-40 percent happens with the helmet. As soon as she came out of surgery, she looked totally different in a good way. She had a more rounded head.”
Wren was fitted with a helmet in mid-September. She’s expected to wear it until she’s about a year old.
The helmet puts pressure on the front and back of Wren’s head, encouraging Wren’s head to grow on the sides.
“Wren has adjusted really well,” Emily said. “Dr. Girotto told us it’s harder on the parents than on the kids and we’ve found that to be true.”
He said he spent a lot of time worrying about the surgery.
“Leading up to the surgery was probably the hardest part, especially since we knew pretty much from birth she would need surgery,” Chris said. “The first day when she was in the intensive care unit, that was the toughest. She’s a 4-month-old baby and she’s all hooked up to machines.”
Emily said she and Chris felt helpless.
“She’s lying there and you can’t even pick her up,” Emily said. “It was 24 hours until we could pick her up.”
These days, Wren gets a lot of cuddling. And a lot of action.
Sitting in a bouncy seat in the family’s Norton Shores living room wearing a red, gray and yellow helmet, Wren jumps and bounces with delight.
Her long-lashed brown eyes watch as her older brothers, Shaw, 4, and Vann, 2, play on the couch.
Vann strolls over and turns on the music on her bouncer. Wren picks up a little brown monkey and, with both legs squatting, thrusts herself upward.
“She’s such a happy baby,” Chris said, smiling back at his little helmeted one.
Wren wears the helmet 23 hours a day, and sleeps with it in place.
“When you take it off she has a lot of hair,” Chris said. “But this is how we know her, that small area of her face that we see. Being our first daughter, we had some custom bows made. For her. It will be nice when we can start treating her and making her feel more like a little girl with all the accessories.”
Emily walks over to Wren and scoops her out of the bouncer and places her on the floor. Wren picks up a nearby stuffed bunny and kisses the colorful creature.
Wren looks up at her dad, utters “da-da” and rolls toward him.
“This is how she is,” Emily said. “We couldn’t have asked for a better baby. For all that she’s been through, she’s really sweet with lots of smiles.”
As Wren goes about her everyday life, the helmet slowly shapes her head.
“The full helmet keeps everything in the shape it needs to be,” Emily said. “Wearing it is very uneventful for her. They say at the end you have to wean them off because they’re so used to having it on.”
Emily said Wren is doing so well she may get her helmet off a month or two early.
“The hardest part is over with,” Emily continued. “Now it’s just follow-up appointments.”
Dr. Girotto will see Wren on an annual basis until she is fully grown.
“She will not have any restrictions on sports or activities, no restrictions, really,” Dr. Girotto said. “Sagittal synostosis is one of the most frequent craniosynostosis. We quote 1 in 2,000 kids. We prefer an early, less invasive operation over more traditional cranial vault remodeling. That, in conjunction with a helmet, yields great results.”