Tiny incisions help tiny lung patient recover faster

Fargo-area family wanted to stay closer to home and their Sanford pediatric surgeon

Young girl smiles in hospital after surgery

You wouldn’t know it from the way she acts, but energetic 2-year-old Elsie Shaw was recently a pediatric surgery patient at Sanford Health.

Elsie was born with a congenital pulmonary airway malformation, or CPAM. So last Thanksgiving, Sanford pediatric surgeon, Scott Engum, M.D., performed surgery to remove the upper lobe of her left lung.

“Years ago we would go through — and even today, some centers would go through — just an incision in the chest called a thoracotomy, and then they would remove the lung, and ultimately the patient would recover from that,” said Dr. Engum. “Technology has gotten to a point now where we have three-millimeter instruments that seal vessels, and don’t require us to hand tie them or even clip all of them.”

Find a specialist: Pediatric surgery at Sanford Children’s

In fact, Elsie has just four small incision marks from the surgery. And because the surgery was minimally invasive, Elsie spent less than two days in the hospital.

“She still had her IVs in, and she was trying to run down the hall,” said Elsie’s father, Nathan Shaw.

“That was the next day at probably two o’clock in the afternoon, 24 hours post-surgery,” added Elsie’s mother, Corrin Shaw. “She was running the hallways, and she was out of there another 24 hours later.”

Amazing care, closer to home

Corinn Shaw was a Sanford nurse in Fargo. She now lives in Roseau, Minnesota, and when it came time to decide where to go to help Elsie, it was a no-brainer.

“I told my co-workers what procedure she was having, and they were like, ‘You’re not going to Mayo?’ And [I said], ‘No, I’m not going to Mayo. I’m bringing her to Fargo,’ said Shaw. “Rochester wasn’t even an option in our eyes because I was like, ‘Dr. Engum, you’re doing this surgery. You’re doing this for us,’ because I don’t want [any] random doctor in her care that hasn’t been there from the beginning.”

“When you look at North Dakota, the Fargo region right now is the only facility that would provide that type of service,” said Dr. Engum. “Certainly our counterparts in Minneapolis and our counterparts down in Rochester at Mayo have pediatric surgeons that have that skill set as well. But the beauty is, for those patients that are in North Dakota or even Western Minnesota, not having to leave the area and deal with a little bit smaller community, [it’s] a little bit easier to navigate and families feel less threatened than going into a larger city.”

It’s not just the surgery itself that made Elsie’s care so special though.

“My job is done when they’re asleep in the operating room,” said Dr. Engum. “The hard part begins when they come to the floor and they need postoperative management. Child Life does a tremendous amount to make a hospitalization tolerable. They’re constantly playing with children, diverting them for any issues that occur, music therapy, taking them down to a large play area, like Cully’s Kids Cabin that we are so gracious to have from the Cullen family. These things make our job easier.”

Dr. Engum says Elsie shouldn’t have any limitations going forward. Her lungs will grow and make up for much of what was removed. That’s great news for Elsie and her parents.

“I just want to thank Sanford as a whole,” said Corinn, wiping away tears. “The pediatric surgery team, the anesthesia team, the staff on the kids’ floor, they were amazing all the way down to the food service and housekeeping and you know … I would recommend them to anyone.”

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Posted In Children's, Fargo, General Surgery, Specialty Care