Two-Year-Old Boy Can Eat Thanks to World-First Surgery Using Magnets

A 2-year-old boy can eat and swallow after surgeons used magnets to fix a problem with the swallowing tube between his mouth and stomach, in a world first.

Henryk Deneen was born with a condition known as esophageal atresia, where part of the tube that links the mouth to the stomach (the esophagus) is missing.

Instead of a complete swallowing tube, the baby will have a disconnected upper and lower esophagus. This renders them unable to send food from the mouth to their stomach.

Deneen had a particularly serious form of the "long-gap" version of the birth defect, where a significant proportion of the esophagus is missing.

He was also born at 33 weeks, meaning he was moderately pre-term. Deneen was kept in the neonatal intensive care unit for the first 182 days after he was born, according to The Montreal Children's Hospital Foundation.

To try to close the gap, surgeons at Montreal Children's Hospital brought a segment of his stomach into his chest, and used magnets to bring the stomach towards the esophagus.

Dr. Sherif Emil, director of pediatric surgery at Montreal Children's Hospital, told CTV National News: "The idea is if you have too wide of a gap you put magnets at each end and let them stretch the tissue and attract and until they finally oppose and bring the tissue together."

The surgery lasted 12 hours, his mother Joy Deneen wrote in a post for The Montreal Children's Hospital Foundation. He was intubated and sedated for days after.

Experts at the institution also worked with doctors in Italy, who had designed a stent the team wanted to use to help Henryk Deneen heal. They needed their guidance to recreate the stent, which was not approved for use in Canada.

After two weeks, doctors saw that the procedure was working as they hoped.

Joy Deneen told CTV: "The day they [the magnets] did come together, was just the most beautiful emotional day, a day I won't forget."

She said: "It's miraculous to me... It wasn't a given that he would be able to eat by mouth, the fact that he is two and he was able to have a little bit of birthday cake, that was absolutely amazing."

Recalling the moment the procedure worked, Joy Deneen wrote for The Montreal Children's Hospital Foundation: "After two long months of recovery, it was finally time to go home. His long-time nurse was with us for an emotional last day. We had grown so attached to these beautiful people. They not only cared for Henryk but they treated us with profound empathy, providing so much emotional support.

"After countless goodbye hugs, we finally drove our baby home, just in time for Christmas."

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A stock image shows a baby in hospital. Henryk Deneen was born at 33 weeks. Getty Images