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January 30. 2013 9:54PM

Berlin child's experience with skull surgeries prompts fundraiser

BERLIN - Owen Stewart started out life several years ago with a big challenge. His skull bones fused together, the soft spot disappearing, far too early. The fusion didn't leave enough room for his brain to grow as it should. A child's brain triples in weight from birth to age 3, when it's 80 percent of its adult size.

Now Owen is a typical, active 4-year-old, according to Mary Stewart, Owen's paternal grandmother. Like many other children his age, enjoys Thomas the Tank Engine and matchbox cars. She said his favorite cartoon used to be Caillou, because Caillou is bald like he was. Owen was bald because of the multiple surgeries he's had over the years.

The skull of a newborn is made up of thin, bony plates. The plates are held together by sutures, which are made of a fibrous material that hardens over time. If one or more of the sutures close too soon, then the child has craniosynostosis, which varies in severity. Some children develop normally, with an odd-shaped head the only sign. Rarely, severe pressure builds up around the brain if more than one suture closes too soon, cramping the brain as it grows.

Surgery is the treatment for the condition and in New Hampshire that surgery is available at Dartmouth-Hitchcock's Children's Hospital at Dartmouth.

Owen's first surgery came when he was 15 months old, during which doctors opened the top of his skull. When he was 3 years old, surgeons cut his skull into several pieces, using plates and screws so that it could expand with his growing brain. At age 4, he had titanium rods attached to his skull. His parents, Lisa and John Stewart of Berlin, were tasked with turning the rods three times a day to slowly open his skull.

His grandmother said he referred to the rods as his "horns". They're out now, removed just a bit early due to an infection, but Mary Stewart said that everything looks good. He still has problems with one eye, which had pressure on it from his growing brain before the surgeries, but has glasses to help train that eye.

She's particularly happy that when Own turns 5 in April, it will be his first birthday that didn't have a surgery scheduled around it.

A family friend has organized a fundraiser for the family. Owen is the youngest child in the Stewart family - his parents have three older daughters between them - and Nancy Younie would like to help the family, and perhaps other families like the Stewarts.

"It's a rare condition and we want to help other children," Younie said.

The fundraiser, which will take place at the White Mountain Chalet from 6 to 9 p.m. on Friday, includes food, music, a 50-50 raffle and prizes.

Younie said the spaghetti supper is $8 for adults, $6 for children, with under kids under 3 free. From 6 to 8 p.m. a DJ will entertain, with the local band Rock Bottom taking over for the rest of the evening.

For more information, call Nancy Younie at 326-3299.

syoungknox@newstote.com

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