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Aviana Collins

Aviana’s Story
By Michele Ruck

Aviana Collins SMALLERToday my daughter, Aviana Collins, is a happy, healthy college student. In the summer of 2015, all of that would have changed if it weren’t for Pediatric Surgical Associates and Dr. Andrew Schulman.

Our medical journey started when Aviana was born and doctors realized she had no esophagus. At that time, we lived in New York, and received the best care available at Mount Sinai. A surgeon there used a piece of Aviana’s ileum (last section of the small intestine) to create an esophagus and connect it. The surgery was successful, and we moved to Charlotte about a year later.

We hit a few bumps along the road. The doctor in New York left the ileum a little long, to ensure Aviana’s esophagus had room to grow with her. This was sometimes problematic; simply swallowing a chicken nugget incorrectly could land us in the emergency room. Still, Aviana managed to have a normal childhood. She grew into a smart, responsible and resilient girl, but that resiliency has been tested.

In the summer of 2015, as we were packing for a trip to Virginia, Aviana said she wasn’t feeling well. She started vomiting, something she had never been able to do. We rushed her to Carolinas Medical Center and admitted her with chest pain. The ER doctors said it was probably a pulled muscle, but I knew it was something worse. I demanded to see a GI specialist, and Pediatric Surgical Associates was the next call.

Dr. Andrew Schulman responded. He determined the problem was that the ileum had stretched out and become blocked.

Aviana in Hospital SMALL

We had three options to correct it: a “clip and reconnect” through the chest, a “stomach flip,” or inserting a permanent feeding tube. We were completely terrified. Then Dr. Schulman thought of another way to do it: laparoscopically.

The surgery would be extremely challenging, but Aviana would recover more quickly – if she had no other complex issues. It was mentioned that there could be complications that could cause a fatality, but we were trying not to focus on that. We prepared for the worst and prayed.

The surgery took 10 hours. Dr. Schulman successfully removed the extra ileum and reconnected it to reform our daughter’s esophagus using minimally invasive tools through three small incisions. After recovery, she was able to drink and move to a soft diet. Everything stayed down. She recovered, and a week-and-a-half later, she made it to her summer job as a camp counselor.

This experience has deeply impacted Aviana. She is currently studying to become a pediatric nurse, to be there for children who are scared and who deserve the same care she received from Dr. Schulman. He made us feel so comfortable and confident. My husband Buddy says we owe everything to him, and that Dr. Schulman has “the perfect job for who he is.”

Learn more about Aviana’s condition in this blog post by Dr. Schmelzer, Parents’ Post-Delivery Worry: An Incomplete Esophagus.

 Aviana and Dr. Schulman were featured on the April 15, 2016, broadcast of WSOC’s Family Focus. Click here to watch.

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