Allie preferred coloring and playing with puzzles over running and jumping with other kids. Although Allie seemed to love her bike, she would only pedal several seconds and then quit because her legs ached. “All her yearly exams had been fairly normal,” her mom Stephanie says. “We thought she had growing pains and was just not an active child.”
In June 2010, Stephanie took her 3-year-old daughter to the pediatrician to examine Allie’s sore throat. What he discovered was much more serious—Allie’s spleen was enlarged and she was very pale. The doctor ordered lab work to find the source of her symptoms. “He called that night with the lab results. Allie’s hemoglobin and red blood cell count were at a critical level. He said we needed to take her to Children’s Hospital right away,” Stephanie says. The Graftons did—and Allie was soon diagnosed with hereditary spherocytosis.
In patients with spherocytosis, red blood cells break down faster than normal. This can cause people with this condition to suffer from life threatening anemia. Some patients require frequent blood transfusions to restore their red blood cell supply. Symptoms of spherocytosis include an enlarged spleen, abdominal pain, fatigue, pale skin, irritability, and a decreased appetite. Many patients, like Allie, also develop gallstones. Over the next two years, Allie had 15 blood transfusions. But these were only a temporary solution. Since the spleen is where red blood cells break down, Allie’s spleen needed to be removed.
In September 2012, Charles Aprahamian, MD, pediatric surgeon at Children’s Hospital, used minimally invasive surgery to remove Allie’s spleen and gallbladder. To remove the organs, Dr. Aprahamian made two small incisions, one in the belly button and another below Allie’s ribs. Allie returned home three days later. “Minimally invasive surgery has many advantages,” Dr. Aprahamian says. “These include less postoperative pain, a shorter hospital stay, and a quicker recovery than is usual with traditional open surgery.” Thanks to the minimally invasive techniques, Allie has no visible scars— only a slightly enlarged belly button. And not long after surgery, Allie snapped on her helmet, hopped on her bike, and rode a full mile from her home to the stop sign at the end of the street. “That was Allie’s big accomplishment,” Stephanie says. “She was very proud. The surgery has changed her life.”