Newborn babies saved from certain death by a drop of glue
Glue is being used to save the lives of children suffering from a rare condition that usually kills babies within days.
Children with Vein of Galen malformation have abnormal communication between the arteries and veins in their brain.
This puts stress on their heart and they usually die within three or four days as a result of heart failure or hydrocephalus (water on the brain).
But a treatment that involves a tissue adhesive called Histoacryl — similar to super glue — being injected through a catheter in the baby's groin is proving increasingly successful at saving lives by blocking the affected area of the brain.
Dr Stefan Brew, a consultant interventional neuro radiologist who has treated around 50 children at London's Great Ormond Street Hospital with the glue procedure, said he still finds doing the highly skilled procedure “incredibly stressful”.
But he added: “It's very satisfying work.
“The children go from looking like they were about to die, often overnight, to looking very well.”
Catrin Evans (32), from Talgarreg, west Wales, described the glue treatment as “a miracle”.
She was initially told there was little hope of her son Dafi surviving and was thrilled to speak to Dr Brew.
“I was just relieved that somebody was giving some kind of hope even if it didn't work out,” she said.
Dafi had the first procedure when he was just one-day-old and he is now a lively 16-month-old toddler although he has needed further treatments and expects his sixth in January.
Mrs Evans, a former primary school headteacher, said: “I look at Dafi now and I can't believe it, it's unbelievable.”
Not all the stories have such a happy ending but Dr Brew said around six out of 10 children treated go on to live a normal life and another two in 10 will be left with only a mild disability.
A further 10% will be left severely disabled and one in 10 children will die.
“No matter how careful you are, there's an element of chance to it,” Dr Brew said.
“What is known is that if you don't treat them, they die.”
Babies usually die within three or four days of birth without treatment but treating a child who is so small and so ill adds to the difficulty of the procedure and there are further risks if the glue does not set quickly enough or sets too quickly.
But for parents with little hope of their son or daughter surviving without the procedure, the risk is often worth taking.
Dr Brew said demand is rising for the treatment which is offered at only two UK centres — Great Ormond Street Hospital in London and the Royal Hospital for Sick Children in Glasgow — although the condition is so rare.
The glue technique was pioneered by Dr Pierre Lasjaunias in France in the 1980s and Dr Brew (43) was able to go and watch him in action before his death last year.
Dr Brew, who joined GOSH in 2000, has been performing the glue treatment since 2003.
“I wouldn't choose to do anything else, ” he said.