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Help kids like Reef!
At 17 months old, Reef Whittemore is walking, talking and living a happy, mellow and carefree life with his dad Robe, mom Meridith, and big sister Brighton. But life was anything but carefree back in May 2014, when Meridith, 37 weeks pregnant with Reef, was feeling unusually uncomfortable.
“At 32 weeks, I had been having bad Braxton Hicks contractions, so I went in for an ultrasound,”Meridith recalls. “The baby was big and I was really uncomfortable, so we went in again at 37 weeks for a follow-up. At that point my only fear was that I would have to have a cesarean section because the baby’s head was so big!”
What happened next sent the Whittemore family into a frenzy. Doctors discovered an abnormal collection of blood in the baby’s brain and insisted Meridith get to the hospital immediately.
Reef Makai Buttons Whittemore was born via emergency C-section at Sharp Mary Birch Hospital for Women and Newborns on May 8, 2014. Immediately, he was whisked away from his mother through the tunnel connecting Sharp and Rady Children’s Hospital-San Diego and admitted to the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU), where he was treated for respiratory distress before doctors determined the next course of action.
Reef was diagnosed with a massive aneurysm, a weak spot on a blood vessel that balloons out and fills with blood. A brain aneurysm can rupture and bleed into the brain, which can be fatal.
“There were so many questions about what was going to happen, but our doctors—especially Dr. Suttner and Dr. Levy—really put us at ease,” Robe says. “The nurses would all visit Reef in the NICU because he’d smile and react to them—he was smiling through it all! At the time, we realized that our child was in a life-threatening situation, but the people who were working on him made us feel so good.”
Dr. Levy prepared for the surgery using 3-D virtual models of Reef’s unique blood vessels in order to develop a precise understanding of his vascular system.
“Dr. Levy explained that he had re-created Reef’s blood vessels on a computer program and had performed the surgery many times prior to even touching our child’s head,” Robe recalls.
In fact, everything went so smoothly with the surgery that Reef’s physicians expect no long-term effects from the aneurysm.
As his proud dad puts it, “He’ll be a normal kid with a horseshoe scar and a story to tell.”
Story time will come later, but for now, life’s a beach for Reef and his family in Point Loma, where the toddler loves surfing and paddle boarding with his dad, wrestling, eating, dancing, and just being a happy little boy.
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