After Grace was diagnosed with a cloacal abnormality, her parents sought a second opinion at the bowel and pelvic malformation center.
Grace Brown loves to play with her six siblings, watch educational TV shows, and just be an average toddler. But some say she shouldn’t be here at all. “Before she was born, we were told she probably wouldn’t survive,” says her mother, K’Shayla.
After Grace – and her twin sister, Mercy – were born prematurely at just 29 weeks, her condition became even more worrisome. Although Mercy was healthy, Grace had some challenges: she had hydrops fetalis (a condition in which large amounts of fluid builds up in a baby’s tissues and organs), hydronephrosis (a condition in which urine enters the kidneys), among others. ), and her chest was not developing properly. She also had a cloacal abnormality, a type of anorectal malformation in which the rectum, vagina, and urological structures converge in one common canal.
“She was so fragile that she stopped breathing and had to be resuscitated,” K’Shayla recalls. “She had to be intubated and placed on oxygen.”
Grace and her twin sister, Mercy
A life-changing decision
After about three months, the team at Grace’s local hospital said she could go home. But K’Shayla and her husband, Jonathan, were concerned — they could see Grace needed more care than their hospital could provide, and asked for a second opinion. After a conversation with Dr. Belinda Dickie, director of the Colorectal and Pelvic Malformation Center, they chose to transfer Grace to Boston Children’s Hospital.
That decision was life-changing — and potentially life-saving, says K’Shayla. “We used to be honest, we didn’t know if Grace would make it. To find out that there is a surgeon who specializes in cloacal abnormalities – and that this condition is not at all rare for her – was a blessing. We learned that there was hope.”
A minimally invasive approach
In Boston, Dr. Dickie and the center’s co-director, Dr. Erin McNamara, used a less invasive approach to repair Grace’s cloacal abnormality. Known as a laparoscopic approach to rectal mobilization and genitourinary separation, it requires smaller incisions and can lead to faster recovery, shorter hospital stays, and less pain medication.
The procedure repaired the anomaly — but it also revealed something unexpected: a growth that turned out to be cancer. Fortunately, Dr. Dickie remove it and Grace is now cancer free. “She really found the growth by chance,” says K’Shayla. “We’re so thankful she caught it.
Today, Grace is doing “great,” her mother says.
Today, Grace is doing “great,” her mother says. She will be 2 in September and will walk, poop – a big milestone for children with cloacal abnormalities – and be ready to go to daycare. She returns to Dr. Dickie and the team for an occasional follow up.
While she may seem like your typical kid, her family understands she’s anything but — and they want other families to know there’s hope, too. “Always ask for a second opinion, have faith, and listen to your gut,” says K’Shayla. “Go to the place that gives you hope.”
Read more about the Center for Bowel and Pelvic Malformation or make an appointment.