Marie Roggenkamp/Daily Journal: As a result of the nerve damage sustained during birth, Preston Schiesser also has Horner’s syndrome, which affects function in his right eye.

Archived Story

Fergus family in unfamiliar territory [UPDATED]

Published 10:58am Friday, October 21, 2011 Updated 11:19am Friday, October 21, 2011

When Carly Schiesser found out she was pregnant again, seven years after the birth of her last baby, she read all the books on pregnancy. There was not one mention of brachial plexus injury.

There was plenty of mention of babies getting stuck in the birth canal and suffering a broken clavicle — her second child had suffered such an injury.

But there was no mention of a brachial plexus injury — which her son, Preston, born May 3 — suffered when he was born.

None of the books mentioned that the injury results when the nerves connected to the arm are stretched, torn or detached from the spinal cord when the child is extracted from the mother. Nor was there mention that this happens to two to three children in 1,000, or that it’s preventable.

“We cried for two months straight,” Carly said, looking at her husband, Lee, who nodded in agreement.

“We were praying that the damage done was just stretched,” Lee said. “A lot of the time this happens where the nerves are just stretched, then they will heal.”

But Preston suffered an avulsion, or detachment from the spinal cord, of the nerves that control his hand, wrist and forearm, a rupture (tear) of the nerve which controls his elbow and a stretched nerve which controls shoulder function. This essentially means his arm is paralyzed.

While he has some feeling in his arm above the elbow, he has no feeling or function of his arm and hand below the elbow — it hangs at his side.

“He can’t roll over or crawl, he feels trapped and cries,” said Carly, a former home health aide with Lakeland Hospice and Home Care. “We have to be careful his wrist, arm or fingers don’t get bent the wrong way,” possibly causing more damage, adding “It’s going to be a long road.”

At about three weeks, doctors gave him an MRI which confirmed that several of Preston’s nerves had been pulled from the spinal cord during birth — a permanent injury. The torn nerve could be repaired and the stretched nerve will likely eventually heal.

At three months, Preston underwent surgery to fix the torn nerve. Doctors took one nerve from each of the baby’s legs, and one from his affected forearm to repair the damaged nerve.

The detached nerves were attached to other nerves that control arm function in the hope that he will experience better function in his arm; however, those nerves will likely never function at full capacity.

The nerves taken from his legs will leave him with decreased sensation on the outside of his feet, Carly said, but it shouldn’t affect his walking or running.

It may be a year or more before the Schiessers know how much function he’ll regain.

Carly and Lee do physical therapy exercises daily with Preston to improve his range of motion and to keep his joints from getting stiff. They work with his good arm as well as the affected arm so he learns he has two arms and what they can do.

But he will likely never regain much of the use of his hand or wrist, even with the surgery and the therapy, according to the couple.

“We’re just hoping he will be able to do little things, like pick up a cookie,” said Lee.

The books also didn’t mention what Carly has since learned: That simply changing a woman’s position during childbirth can open the pelvis about 30 percent to allow the baby the room needed for delivery.

“Most women are on their backs during delivery,” she said. “But if they are on their side or squatting or any other position the baby has more room. Why don’t doctors turn a woman when the baby gets stuck?”

She and her husband, Lee, have asked a lot of “why” questions since Preston’s birth: Why him? Why us? Why not a C-section, often an option when a big baby delivers.

Nearly six months after Preston’s birth, they don’t have many of the answers to the whys and most likely, they never will.

However, the couple has moved from thinking about what Preston won’t be able to do, to thinking about what he can do.

“It’s taken us a while to start thinking positive,” said Carly. “But there’s lots of things way worse.”

It’s just a matter of perspective, Lee said. After being at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester where Preston’s surgery was performed, he’s seen children with conditions far worse than Preston’s.

“I wonder how those people cope with their situations?” He said. “I look at those other kids and say it could have been worse.”

While the pregnancy books were less than helpful on brachial plexus injury, Carly has learned there are several children in the area affected by BPI. She has also chatted online with a another mother about the injury and hopes to talk to other parents locally whose children are living with the injury.

Carly seeks to find the purpose in her son’s injury and the challenges he will face as he learns to do things with one hand or the limited use of his affected arm. Perhaps it will come by reaching out to others, she said.

“People don’t talk about this, but I’m going to,” she said. “I want to make sure this doesn’t happen to anyone else. And hopefully, Preston will be an inspiration for others.”below the elbow — it hangs at his side.

“He can’t roll over or crawl, he feels trapped and cries,” said Carly, a former home health aide with Lakeland Hospice and Home Care. “We have to be careful his wrist, arm or fingers don’t get bent the wrong way,” possibly causing more damage, adding “It’s going to be a long road.”

At about three weeks, doctors gave him an MRI, which confirmed that several of Preston’s nerves had been pulled from the spinal cord during birth — a permanent injury. The torn nerve could be repaired and the stretched nerve will likely eventually heal.

At three months, Preston underwent surgery to fix the torn nerve. Doctors took one nerve from each of the baby’s legs, and one from his affected forearm to repair the damaged nerve.

The detached nerves were attached to other nerves that control arm function in the hope that he will experience better function in his arm; however, those nerves will likely never function at full capacity.

The nerves taken from his legs will leave him with decreased sensation on the outside of his feet, Carly said, but it shouldn’t affect his walking or running.

It may be a year or more before the Schiessers know how much function he’ll regain.

Carly and Lee do physical therapy exercises daily with Preston to improve his range of motion and to keep his joints from getting stiff. They work with his good arm as well as the affected arm so he learns he has two arms and what they can do.

But he will likely never regain much of the use of his hand or wrist, even with the surgery and the therapy, according to the couple.

“We’re just hoping he will be able to do little things, like pick up a cookie,” said Lee.

The books also didn’t mention what Carly has since learned: That simply changing a woman’s position during childbirth can open the pelvis about 30 percent to allow the baby the room needed for delivery.

“Most women are on their backs during delivery,” she said. “But if they are on their side or squatting or any other position the baby has more room. Why don’t doctors turn a woman when the baby gets stuck?”

She and her husband, Lee, have asked a lot of “why” questions since Preston’s birth: Why him? Why us? Why not a C-section, often an option when a big baby delivers.

Nearly six months after Preston’s birth, they don’t have many of the answers to the whys and most likely, they never will.

However, the couple has moved from thinking about what Preston won’t be able to do, to thinking about what he can do.

“It’s taken us a while to start thinking positive,” said Carly. “But there’s lots of things way worse.”

It’s just a matter of perspective, Lee said. After being at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester where Preston’s surgery was performed, he’s seen children with conditions far worse than Preston’s.

“I wonder how those people cope with their situations?” he said. “I look at those other kids and say it could have been worse.”

While the pregnancy books were less than helpful on brachial plexus injury, Carly has learned there are several children in the area affected by BPI. She has also chatted online with a another mother about the injury and hopes to talk to other parents locally whose children are living with the injury.

Carly seeks to find the purpose in her son’s injury and the challenges he will face as he learns to do things with one hand or the limited use of his affected arm. Perhaps it will come by reaching out to others, she said.

“People don’t talk about this, but I’m going to,” she said. “I want to make sure this doesn’t happen to anyone else. And hopefully, Preston will be an inspiration for others.”

  • Omniumgatherum

    our prayers are with the family….

Editor's Picks

No bike lanes for Fir Ave.

Fir Avenue from Union to Friberg avenues won’t get bike lanes, but parking lane width will be increased so it can continue to act as ... Read more

RTC plans waiting on tax credit

Historic Kirkbride has submitted applications to various funding sources for preliminary approval for its proposed $41.4-million redevelopment project of the Fergus Falls Regional Treatment Center, ... Read more