Theresa Ventrudo and her husband, John, weren’t newbies at parenthood when they welcomed their third son, Mateo. Not only had the Malverne, NY, couple been parents for five years already, they both worked in health care, John as a sports medicine doctor and Theresa as an occupational therapist. They knew that Mateo’s constant crying—up to 18 hours a day—wasn’t just colic.
Over Mateo’s first year, they logged 127 doctor visits. He needed special formula. He was diagnosed with “failure to thrive.” At 6 months, he developed a lazy eye. It wasn’t for lack of trying, but no one could come up with definitive answers for his ailments.
At 13 months, Mateo collapsed on the kitchen floor, lips blue, requiring artificial respiration. That happened eight more times over the course of two years. He was also suffering from debilitating headaches that couldn’t be explained.
It was during this time that Theresa took her son to see a retina specialist to address his lazy eye. That physician suspected neurological involvement and sent the family to Cohen Children’s Medical Center, where they met Mark Mittler, MD, the co-chief of pediatric neurosurgery. “That was the turning point of getting a handle on Mateo’s mysterious health problems,” Theresa said.
An MRI revealed that Mateo had a blockage of cerebrospinal fluid, causing a buildup of pressure in the brain and optic nerves. A series of complex operations were needed to relieve the obstruction and reduce the pressure, ultimately saving his vision.
Then, just before Christmas when Mateo was about to turn 2, it became clear that more needed to be done. Mateo was again worsening as his skull growth appeared to be unable to keep up with his brain growth. While dealing with it was horrifying, that revelation “was the best thing that could ever happen to us,” Theresa said. Mateo’s diagnosis of multisuture craniosynostosis is extremely rare. It is a condition in which the normal cartilage connections between the bones of the skull are absent, compromising skull growth and restricting the growth of the brain.
To correct it, Mateo had to face the most important surgery of his young life: an eight-hour anterior cranial vault reconstruction (CVR) to expand his skull, performed by Dr. Mittler and craniofacial plastic surgeon Rachel Ruotolo, MD. “It was the scariest surgery we ever sat through,” Theresa said. “But we remained extremely calm because we knew our son was in great hands.” The procedure was a success, and Mateo’s headaches subsided.