North Texas

Surgery for the Tiniest Patients

No parent wants to hear their child needs surgery, but a less invasive approach with smaller incisions would sure make going through it a whole lot easier. To make tiny incisions, you need tiny tools.

Little Mateo is a healthy, happy two-year-old.

But he had a rough start. Doctors found a growth on his lungs when mom was just 23 weeks pregnant.

"You could feel the air come out of the room. It was just like 'phooo.' Happy to like scared as you could imagine," Jacob Harkins, Mateo’s Dad said.

"We went home and consulted Dr. Google, and of course everything got way scarier," said Florencia Vitaver, Mateo's mom.

He needed a lobe of his lung removed, a surgery he'd have at two months old. 

"It was heavy. It was really, really tough," said Vitaver.

But Mateo was in skilled hands. Dr. Saundra Kay, a Pediatric Surgeon at Rocky Mountain Hospital for Children and her colleagues are pioneers in minimally-invasive surgery for babies.

"Operating on a little baby is not the same as operating on a bigger person," Kay said.

When laparoscopic tools first hit the scene, they were too big for babies. But those tools are getting smaller, giving the tiniest of babies a better option.

"We're talking five pounds and even less than that for some of the procedures that we do," Kay said.

Kay's partner, Dr. Steve Rothenberg, has developed small tools now used around the world, like this three- millimeter sealer to close tiny blood vessels.

"These things really expand our capabilities," Dr. Kay said.

It's often an easier recovery. No big cuts mean no big scars.

"They're little mosquito bites. He has three little mosquito bites. It's amazing to us. It's so cool," said Vitaver.

Surgeons at Rocky Mountain Hospital for Children train surgeons all over the world on their minimally invasive tools and techniques. During Mateo's surgery, there were 27 doctors around the world watching.

Contributors to this news report include: Stacie Overton Johnson, Field Producer; Rusty Reed, Videographer; Cyndy McGrath, Supervising Producer; Hayley Hudson, Assistant Producer; Roque Correa, Editor.

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