Baby's head shape reveals potentially fatal condition

Matthew before his operation, and while wearing his special helmet afterwards.
Matthew before his operation, and while wearing his special helmet afterwards. Photo: Supplied

Thinking her baby just had an unusually shaped head, a mother was shocked to discover it was instead linked to a dangerous condition.

Texas mum Megan Boler told ABC News, "We definitely thought it looked a little unusual. We thought maybe he had an unusual-shaped head."

"We didn't think about any of the ramifications."

Matthew now fits in with other 12-month-olds.
Matthew now fits in with other 12-month-olds.  Photo: Supplied

But during baby Matthew's two-month check-up, his paediatrician told Mrs Boler he couldn't find the baby's soft spot on his head.

"Don't take this lightly, I want to refer you to the neurosurgeons at Texas Children's Hospital," Mrs Boler recalled the doctor saying.

Following the referral, doctors found Matthew had a type of craniosynostosis called sagittal synostosis, a condition where the joints holding the skull together fuse prematurely.   

As a result, his brain was growing incorrectly, as his skull wasn't growing as it should be around it. His fontanelles - the soft spots - had prematurely closed together.

Dr Sandi Lam, Director of Craniofacial Surgery Program at Texas Children's Hospital, explained: "His brain was growing underneath, but the skull doesn't allow for it because of the way it's fused."

"There's no medicine that will unfuse the bone," he said. "The treatment is surgery and basically we have to cut out the bad bone."

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"I was in shock," Mrs Boler told ABC7. "I felt overwhelmed and scared about the well-being of our little boy. The name alone, 'craniosynostosis', is a mouthful and scary sounding."

Luckily, Matthew's young age meant doctors could perform the surgery with smaller incisions.

"The skull is very, very thin, so we're able to use different types of instruments and use endoscope to see everything," said Dr Lam.

"Because of all of this growth that is happening, the brain really helps make the baby's new head shape. It rounds everything out from inside out and helps guide how everything heals up."

Matthew underwent surgery in October 2014, and it was a huge success.

"In a 10-hour period the swelling went down and ever since then he hasn't looked back," said Mrs Boler.

Matthew had to wear a special helmet for 24 hours day for four months to help his skull form, but he was out of the helmet much sooner than expected due to his excellent recovery time.

Now, Mrs Boler hopes to raise awareness about craniosynostosis.

"I learned a lot about trusting others to take care of my child," Boler said.

"I also learned to take Matthew's lead. Whenever I began to feel overwhelmed or scared, I just looked at his smiling face and knew it was going to be okay. He met each obstacle with a smile."