Ryker is a rambunctious, sweet 2-year-old.
“He is a no-fear, non-stop toddler,” said Heather Lutz, Ryker’s mom. “You would never know looking at him or being around him that he has gone through what he’s gone through.”
A scar, now hidden behind a head of blonde hair, which starts from his right ear and wiggles back across his scalp, is the only indication that at 11 months old, Ryker underwent a six-hour surgery where portions of his skull and eye sockets were completely removed and reshaped.
Something seemed off
Since Ryker was Heather’s second child, she noticed his forehead didn’t look quite right the day he was born.
Infants’ heads can be soft though, and since no doctor brought anything to her attention, she didn’t worry.
But at Ryker’s 6-month check-up, their pediatrician suggested the Lutzes see Dr. Michael Jaskolka at New Hanover Regional Medical Center. Jaskolka, the director of the Cleft and Craniofacial Team at NHRMC, specializes in the treatment of children with congenital conditions such as cleft lip and palate and craniofacial syndromes.
Ryker was diagnosed with Metopic Craniosynostosis, a condition in which the fibrous sutures in an infant’s skull fuse prematurely and turn into bone.
Without surgery to repair it, his skull would not grow properly.
Building a 3-D model of Ryker's skull
With a narrow window of time to correct the problem, Dr. Jaskolka put Ryker on the “fast-track” from the moment of diagnosis.
Using state of the art technology, Dr. Jaskolka and Dr. Alex Thomas, a neurosurgeon, work together to tailor surgery for each patient. If diagnosed early, the surgeons can sometimes remove the affected area of the skull.
“In Ryker’s case, we used a CT scan of his head to create an exact-to-scale replica using a 3-D printer,” Jaskolka said. “Ryker’s surgery was also planned virtually using a computer so that the operation could be carried out precisely as desired.”
Jaskolka said the 6-hour surgery entailed removing the front half of Ryker’s skull and the top half of his eye sockets and reconstructing them to normalize the shape and allow more room for his brain.
Ryker’s surgery was scheduled for the week before his first birthday.
Close to home
Heather said the six hours for the surgery dragged on as did the three days in recovery at the hospital, but she is grateful the technology and level of care that Drs. Jaskolka and Thomas delivered was available so close to home.
“Our oldest was three and a half, so we had another little person to worry about,” she said. “We could still stay home rather than spend a few days or a week in Chapel Hill or at Duke.”
At Ryker’s one-year post-operation check-in, the doctors were able to create another 3-D replica with the 3-D camera to illustrate his progress, but Heather had noticed significant changes long before that.
“I would even say once his swelling went down at the 6-month mark and looking back at pictures of infancy, it’s night-and-day difference,” she said.
Heather said she’s thankful for advancements in medicine and that doctors at NHRMC have access to some of the most up-to-date technology and equipment.
“All of it was nothing short of amazing from Dr. Jaskolka’s staff to all the staff at NHRMC,” she said. “They were there every step and made us feel at ease throughout the process. I am thankful that we have one of the best teams in Wilmington to go through this.”
See how Dr. Jaskolka builds a replica skull with 3D technology: https://youtu.be/FECnWFGhvt8