Who has an aneurysm at age 3?
Jacksonville brain surgeons save rambunctious toddler by removing a carotid artery damaged by a sinus infection.
Johnny Woodhouse Published: 12/7/2017
Children’s hospitals are nothing new to Morgan Strickland’s little boy Jack. The spunky 3-year-old, who was born premature, spent nearly four months in a neonatal intensive care unit after birth, and another month and a half in a pediatric intensive care unit, or PICU, with aspiration pneumonia, a lung infection that develops when food, liquid or vomit is inhaled into the lungs.
“We were pretty much in and out of hospitals the first six months of his life,” said Strickland. “He was a micro preemie. He weighed only 1.8 pounds at birth.”
Strickland thought her son was free and clear of children’s hospitals after the pair moved to Florida in May 2017. A week after they settled in Pensacola, where Strickland works as an emergency room nurse at Sacred Heart Hospital, the unthinkable happened: Jack developed a sinus infection that escalated into a life-threatening aneurysm, an enlargement of an artery. He spent June 3, 2017, his third birthday, in a Pensacola hospital with one eye swollen shut and his body full of antibiotics.
“We were in the hospital for nine days trying to figure out why he wasn’t getting any better,” recalled Strickland, who slept at the hospital every night, even after working her 12-hour shift in the ER.
Joshua Dixon, MD, an otolaryngologist (ENT) affiliated with Sacred Heart, performed sinus surgery on Jack, and then ordered an MRI of his neck. The scan revealed an aneurysm in one of Jack’s carotid arteries.
After a second MRI, Jack was flown to Wolfson Children’s Hospital in Jacksonville on a special plane equipped to handle critically ill pediatric and neonatal patients. The flight crew included a pediatric critical care nurse and pediatric respiratory therapist with Wolfson Children’s Kids Kare Mobile ICU team.
“It still had not occurred to me how truly sick he was,” said Strickland, who met pediatric neurosurgeon Phillip Aldana, MD, upon arrival at the Wolfson Children’s PICU. “But everyone was very calm about the situation, so it didn’t stress me out too much.”
Dr. Aldana, co-medical director of the Stys Neuroscience Institute at Wolfson Children’s, told Strickland the sinus infection had caused a weakening in the walls of Jack’s carotid artery. “It’s very rare to see something like that, and very difficult to diagnosis,” he added.
The following day, Jack was seen by both Dr. Aldana and endovascular neurosurgeon Eric Sauvageau, MD, co-director of the Baptist Stroke & Cerebrovascular Center at Baptist Medical Center Jacksonville. “Dr. Sauvageau came in and we discussed some options, including cutting the carotid artery out or putting a stent in,” Strickland recalled. “And I remember saying, ‘If this was your baby on the table, what would you do?’ ”
According to Dr. Sauvageau, getting rid of the artery was the safest way to treat Jack’s complex condition. “Fortunately, his body created an alternate natural bypass from another artery to bring blood to this area,” he added.
Strickland said her son’s endovascular surgery was the longest three hours of her life. “Dr. Sauvageau said he was going to save my baby, not the vessel, and that’s what he did. I will respect him forever for that,” she said.
Today, Jackson is as rambunctious as ever, bouncing off living room furniture and asking his mother a million questions.
“He’s pretty much a normal 3-year-old,” said Strickland. “We may or may not need surgery in the future, but given the circumstances, we will deal with it.”