Ten little fingers and ten little toes. That’s what you’re supposed to check for when your baby is born. I thought this was just a cute saying – until my son, Luke, was born. Technically, he did have ten little fingers and ten little toes. But his left hand was extremely under-developed…everything about it was smaller than his right, and his four digits seemed to be webbed together. A birth defect was something we were not expecting in this day and age. But there we were, wondering what went wrong.
Right after Luke’s birth, no one in our local hospital could give us any answers. Was there something else that was under-developed? Would he have use of his hand? Was there something we could do for him? Each and every staff member told me that this was not an acute problem, and after growing tired of my questions, one doctor tersely said, “Look, you find the best plastic surgeon or orthopedic surgeon out there, and that’s the best you can do.”
So that’s what we did. We initially met with a few local hand surgeons, who took one look at Luke’s tiny hand and quickly informed us that they couldn’t do much for his tricky case of syndactyly. One surgeon, though, knew who could: Dr. Melvin Rosenwasser at New York Presbyterian. My husband and I immediately did some research and learned that Dr. Rosenwasser was the Director of the Orthopaedic Hand and Trauma Service there, and his online case studies were awe-inspiring. We were anxious to meet with him, as well as a bit nervous since he was such an esteemed surgeon. We were expecting someone who didn’t have much time for each patient. Upon meeting Dr. Rosenwasser, though, we couldn’t have been more wrong. He immediately put us at ease by telling us that he could absolutely help Luke gain mobility of all his fingers. He took the time to explain to us that Luke was in no way disabled, but rather “slightly disadvantaged,” which was a huge relief to finally hear. He also explained we were very lucky that Luke was born with a thumb, since the pincer grasp was extremely important to the learning process. He walked us through his plan of action, as well as what would happen after the surgeries. And most importantly, his kind and humble demeanor made everyone feel at ease – even our little guy.
Dr. Rosenwasser performed two surgeries on Luke, each time separating digits (including nerves) which included a skin graft from his groin area. Just like he told us, Luke bounced back immediately both times and dealt with the bandages very well. Today, Luke is able to use each finger on his left hand independently, and he can count to ten on his fingers with confidence. And from an aesthetic point of view, his disadvantage is much less noticeable now that his fingers are separated.
It’s an agonizingly tough decision to put your baby through an elective surgery, but Dr. Rosenwasser and everyone at New York Presbyterian helped us through each step of the way. Every time I see one of the hospital’s “Amazing Things Are Happening Here” ads, I can’t help but feel emotional. Although small in comparison to the cases featured in the campaign, something truly amazing happened for us there, and we’re eternally grateful for this.