Stories about: Dr. Benjamin Warf

Coming together from worlds apart for spina bifida care

Molly Gotbeter giggles impishly as she accepts a sugar cookie and frosting from a nurse. She’s sitting patiently on an exam table waiting to see one of her favorite people in the world — Benjamin Warf, MD, director of Neonatal and Congenital Anomaly Neurosurgery at Boston Children’s Hospital.

For this visit to the spina bifida clinic, Molly has traveled from her home in Charleston, South Carolina. But her journey to Dr. Warf and Boston Children’s has been much longer.

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Second opinion gives unborn baby second chance

fetal second opinionSeven-month-old Charlotte Bent is hitting all of her developmental milestones — smiling, laughing, playing peek-a-boo, bearing weight on her legs. Her parents, Jennifer and Keith, are overjoyed.

“It’s a complete 180-degree turn from where we thought we would be this time last year,” says Jennifer.

After struggling to conceive their second child, the couple was thrilled when Jennifer became pregnant. The results of genetic testing were normal and confirmed they would be welcoming a daughter in April.

Jennifer felt the baby’s first kicks on Nov. 23, 2015.

The next day, she was scheduled for an anatomy scan. “At first, everything seemed normal,” recalls Jennifer. But as the obstetrician was helping her from the exam table, he looked at Jennifer. “I have some concerns,” he told her.

“My heart dropped,” she says. Joy turned to devastation.

“I think your baby is missing part of her brain,” the obstetrician said.

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Seeing Phoenix

spina bifidaIt seems like people have been looking at our son Phoenix — without seeing him, without talking to him — since before he was born.

When I was pregnant and the ultrasound showed severe spina bifida and kyphosis (an excessive forward curve in his spine), the specialist told us he had never seen a spine like Phoenix’s. He wasn’t sure how it could be treated and recommended terminating my pregnancy.

My husband Mike and I chose not to.

Phoenix was born on June 29, 2009, with a lesion at the base of his spine. His spinal cord and nerves were exposed, so his first surgery was a skin graft to cover the lesion. On top of spina bifida and kyphosis, our son was diagnosed with clubfoot and hydrocephalus.

It felt like Phoenix was a patient before he was baby. He had 16 specialists — an orthopedic surgeon, neurosurgeon, ophthalmologist, physical therapist and more.

Phoenix’s appointments gobbled up 40 hours a week. One doctor would remind me to stretch his legs with every appointment change; another to patch his eye.

He didn’t get to be baby, and the back and forth among all of Phoenix’s specialists left me feeling insecure and unsettled as a mother. Was I doing anything right?

Doctor after doctor talked at me. Every visit was a constant checklist.

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