Once plagued with a chronic cough, 9-month-old Peyton Ward is breathing much easier these days, as are her parents. But that wasn’t always the case.
A couple months after birth, Peyton began having difficulty breathing. Doctors treated her for recurring croup, a common childhood illness characterized by harsh coughing and labored breathing. She was taking multiple medications to treat her symptoms. Her parents, Timothy and Devon Ward, kept a bag packed in case they needed to go to the local Emergency Department.
When treatment offered little relief, Peyton’s doctors referred her to Dr. Michael Dunham of the Otolaryngology (ear, nose and throat) department at Children’s Hospital. Dr. Dunham suspected Peyton had an obstruction in her larynx.
Viewing her airway through a thin instrument called a bronchoscope, he found she had a subglottic hemangioma, a mass that grows quickly after birth. A rare condition seen only in children, Dr. Dunham treats two to three cases per year. Symptoms are quite similar to croup, and very hard to distinguish in a primary care physician’s office.
“Peyton’s condition is known to present with croup and can be a diagnostic problem,” said Dr. Dunham. “The key is having experience, knowing that once you treat croup two to three times, there’s another underlying condition. When it’s recurrent you need a place like Children’s. We know what to expect, we know how to handle it.”
Dr. Dunham picked up on a key clue in Peyton’s diagnosis – a benign tumor that formed after birth on her head (a cutaneous hemangioma). There’s a correlation between cutaneous and subglottic hemangiomas, and the growth on Peyton’s head led Dr. Dunham to the one in her throat.
“Very few people with cutaneous hemangiomas have subglottic hemangiomas,” he said. “But if you have a subglottic hemangioma, there’s a 50 percent chance you have cutaneous hemangiomas.”
Peyton’s parents were glad to get to the bottom of their child’s problem. “He started giving us something tangible and pieced things together,” said Timothy. “He said, ‘where there’s one (hemangioma), there may be another.’”
The mass was growing dangerously large. “It was blocking 60 percent of her airway – you need airway and laser expertise to deal with children who have these,” said Dr. Dunham, who removed the mass from Peyton’s throat through microlaryngoscopy and laser excision.
“Dr. Dunham has been amazing,” said Devon. “He called me on a Saturday to check on Peyton after the surgery. He even came in to see her during his vacation.”
Peyton continues to see Dr. Dunham for follow-up. “There’s always a chance of recurrence but she’s gone weeks without any signs,” he said.
As Peyton bounced and clapped her hands to her favorite songs on Disney Channel’s “Choo-Choo Soul” and “Little Einsteins” programs, the Ward family said they are very grateful for the care they received at Children’s and the chance to resume a normal life.
“Dr. Dunham has a special place in my heart,” said Devon. “He fixed our daughter and gave us the answers we wanted. All of our prayers had finally been answered.”