Baby Xavian’s Gastroschisis Journey at CHRISTUS Children's

Baby Xavian is smiling at the camera after being released from the hospital after 6 months

Starrlit Hernandez, a native of San Antonio, and her husband, Xavian Castaneda, received the surprise of their lives when they found out Starrlit was 14 weeks pregnant in January 2023. But that wasn’t the only shocking piece of information they learned when abnormal blood test results led to an amniocentesis.

At her maternal fetal medicine appointment, Dr. Lissa Melvin with CHRISTUS Children’s, diagnosed Starrlit’s baby boy with gastroschisis, a birth defect which causes the baby’s intestines and stomach to develop outside of the body, through a small defect in the anterior abdominal wall. Starlitt continued to be monitored by Dr. Melvin throughout her pregnancy.

While the intestines growing outside the body are surrounded by amniotic fluid, they can still become damaged as the pregnancy continues.

Gastroschisis is rare, occurring in only one of every 2,000 babies born in the United States. Medical experts do not know why the condition develops, and each case can be diagnosed at various levels of severity depending on how swollen the intestines become during the pregnancy.

The good news, Starrlit quickly learned, is that gastroschisis can be repaired.

We were relieved to learn it wasn’t a birth defect that couldn’t be fixed, Starrlit recalled when she received the amniocentesis results. My husband and I knew the baby would have to have surgery after he was born but we were told his particular condition was a best case scenario because the defect could be fixed and, hopefully, he would be perfectly fine.

Welcome to the World, Baby Xavian!

Baby Xavian is sleeping in his mother's arms at CHRISTUS Children's hospital

It’s not unusual for a baby with gastroschisis to be born prematurely and Starrlit was prepared for her son to be born sooner than his July due date. But just as she was surprised by her pregnancy, Starrlit didn’t recognize signs of early labor when they started.

On June 8, 2023, Starrlit was at work when she began to feel extreme lower back and abdominal pain. She tried to rest throughout the day, but the pain was getting worse. By the time she got to the hospital, she learned her water had broken a week before and she was suffering from an infection. At that time, the baby’s heart rate was elevated, as well.

The next day, June 9, baby Xavian was delivered by Caesarian section at CHRISTUS Children’s. Starrlit said she is so thankful for the care she received at CHRISTUS Children’s during a time when things were moving very fast, and she was anxious and worried about the baby. “They were completely prepared, and I realized I had no reason to worry. They had teams in place to care for me and the baby. They knew what to expect, even though I didn’t, and made me feel like everything was going to work out.”

While Xavian measured very small in prior bi-weekly visits with the neonatal specialists, he weighed 3 pounds, 7 ounces at birth. “I felt so much relief when I heard his birth weight,” mom said, noting she wasn’t able to see her baby for several hours as she was recovering from general anesthesia and the baby was being expertly cared for by Dr. Maria Pierce, neonatal and perinatal physician and director of Neonatology for CHRISTUS Health.

“Everybody Poops” … Except Baby Xavian

Dr. Katherine Barsness, pediatric surgeon at CHRISTUS Children’s, first met with Starrlit and her husband when the pregnancy reached the six-month mark to discuss how the gastroschisis would be surgically repaired after the baby was born.

In fact, Xavian underwent the first of six surgeries on June 12. I wasn’t prepared for his case to be as complex as it was, Starrlit said. She said she prepared herself for one surgery and didn’t think the baby would be in the NICU as long as he was – six months!

Following the first surgery to repair the birth defect, the wait was on. When would Xavian poop? It was going to be the telltale sign that the intestines were working and that the recovery was progressing on schedule.

They waited. And waited. And waited. But, no poop.

Unfortunately, the intestines weren’t working correctly. There was a blockage in the intestines that required additional operations to correct. After waiting for months, Xavian finally had a bowel movement.

I couldn’t believe we were actually celebrating the baby pooping; it was so funny! But the day I arrived at the NICU, and they told me Xavian pooped, it was so amazing to hear, Starrlit recalled.

The next step was feeding. Finally, we could start to give him tiny amounts of breast milk, Starrlit said, noting she had been pumping and storing breast milk since the baby was born.

On Aug. 24, Starrlit was able to hold her baby and feed him herself for the first time. That is a day she will always remember.

And while no mom wants to have to visit their baby in the NICU for any amount of time, she said the nurses made it as easy as possible.

Everyone in the NICU was so great and I had unlimited access to visit, mom said. I had great nurses in the NICU. The nurses loved my son as if he were their own. I’m grateful for them being there with him and playing the role of his mom when I couldn’t be there.

She mentioned Tricia, Bailey and Madison, nurses, who didn't only help my son, but helped me and my husband get through everything. The entire time they kept us informed and didn’t treat us like we were an afterthought. They cared for us, too,” Starrlit said.

She said she is grateful for all the support she received from doctors and nurses in the CHRISTUS Children’s NICU. They have been a source of light on days when Starrlit had trouble focusing on the hope of better days ahead.

And now, those better days have arrived. Every day, Xavian grows stronger and reaches more milestones. He lifts his head, rolls over, smiles all the time and, mom said, is constantly babbling.

I hope the medical stuff is behind us. I really am looking forward to the day when we don’t need an at-home nurse and his g-tube is removed for good, Starrlit said. I love every minute of time alone with him and cherish the cuddles and giggles. Starrlit said, it’s hard to believe, but she even thinks about dirty diapers with a smile.

“Every time I change a dirty diaper, it’s bittersweet.,” Starrlit said. “It’s not a fun activity but also it reminds me how far he has come.”

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