Little Jack is thriving!

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Jack with his mum, Boufa after surgery. Photo credit Alex Coppel

Remember gorgeous little Jack from Vanuatu? He was with us for life-saving surgery during 2018. We recently caught up with his mum, Boufa, to see how he is going.

“Jack no longer has headaches. He is fine. He is always playing and never sits down. When I speak to him in English, he understands but, he answers back in Bislama”.

Jack before surgery. Photo credit Teagan Glenane

Jack, as you may remember, was born with a large lump on his tiny face. The lump was a life-threatening encephalocele, resulting from a neural tube defect where the bones in Jack’s skull failed to close completely during pregnancy. This allowed cerebral fluid to leak and form a large sac in the centre of his face. Any bump to Jack’s head could be fatal. When we showed his photo to his surgeon, Professor Tony Holmes, he described it as a “death sentence”.

We quickly pulled out all stops to get Jack to Australia for life-saving surgery.

When Jack and his mum landed in Melbourne and met with his doctors, it quickly became apparent that his condition was more complicated than originally thought.

Scans revealed that Jack had a second condition where his skull hadn’t formed correctly, and as a result, it wasn’t big enough to fit his brain inside. An extra operation was required to expand his skull, before removal of the dangerous tissue could occur.

While we had budgeted for surgical costs and recovery for one operation, we hadn’t anticipated the additional surgery or extended post-surgical care at our Retreat.

Luckily, our generous donors came swiftly to the rescue. Team Jack was formed, and this life-saving group of donors made crucial contributions towards the cost.

The combination of the two complex surgeries was a world first, and utilised practices that were pioneered at the Royal Children’s Hospital.

To expand his skull, neurosurgeon, Dr Alison Wray and maxillofacial surgeon, Dr Jonathan Burge cut the back of Jack’s skull and attached two distractors, or expandable metal pins. These distractors were then turned twice a day for 25 days. With each turn, the distractors stretched 0.6mm with bone growing to replace the space made.

Five months later, Jack was back in the operating room. This time, Professor Tony Holmes and Dr Jonathon Burge removed the encephalocele and rebuilt his face to fit his newly enlarged skull.

As you can see from the photos, the transformation in Jack is incredible! Thanks to the amazing surgeons, doctors, medical professionals, generous donors and everyone from Team Jack, little Jack not only has a new face, he has a new life in which he is thriving and growing.

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