Helping children born with birth defects

April 7, 2011 3:15:05 PM PDT
One-hundred-fifty-thousand babies are born with birth defects.

Breaking that down: three out of every one-hundred infants will suffer some sort of neurological, mental or physical problem. It's something most will live with their entire lives. Now, one doctor is helping thousands of children get a grip on their reality. The first thing you notice about Gavin Azzopardi is his unstoppable energy. He's all boy with a big heart.

But what you don't notice -- and what Gavin barely notices himself -- are his hands.

"We didn't know until he was born that his hands were like that," Laura Azzopardi, Gavin's mom, said.

He was born without his index, middle and ring fingers on each hand.

"It was never caught in the ultrasound because when he was sucking his thumb, he did that. It looked like he was like this, so it didn't show," she said.

Now, Cleveland Clinic surgeon Dr. William Seitz is creating four new fingers for Gavin.

"We took his index metacarpal bone -- that was there -- and moved it over to add on to his thumb. We took some toe bones and added to some other fingers," Seitz said.

The bones are then attached to a temporary metal lengthening device, which helps them grow one millimeter a day. At the end of a month: 30 millimeters, which is a little more than an inch.

"Then, we went in and separated the fingers out so that he could use the little muscles in his hand," Seitz said.

So far, Gavin's had four surgeries. The fingers will continue to grow, but there may be several more surgeries, depending on the function of his fingers.

"So that he could use the little muscles in his hand, so he could move his little fingers around," he said.

And what his patients are able to do surprises most. This little girl needed three fingers on one hand. Now, she can play piano.

"They amaze me. I try to give them something down here to make it easier, but they've got it here and here to make it work," Seitz said.

"When he was first born, of course, he didn't have anything and to see the fingers Dr. Seitz created, hold the cup and move to grasp whatever he is holding, it's amazing," Azzopardi said.

As for Gavin, he's planning to take his game out on the field and hopes to be a baseball player when he grows up.

Gavin suffered from a congenital hand deformity. It's not genetic. Dr.Seitz hopes to not only create fingers, but also joints in the future.