Alivia McRae recalls the flood of anxiety she felt when her midwife mentioned her baby boy's slightly pointed forehead didn't look normal.

The Nelson first-time mother had noticed her Braxton Watt's "misshaped" head directly post-birth, but it wasn't until six weeks later when told the bump "hadn't gone down much" that her alarm went up.

"It was a horrible feeling, this nervous feeling. I thought that was just normal for a baby when they are first born. I never thought I'd have to go through something this traumatic," she said.

According to doctors, McRae ,19, is not unique in not noticing her child having the skull condition craniosynostosis.

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Charles Davis is the surgeon who operated on Braxton and says there are roughly 50 cranial vault operations performed each year in New Zealand.

"The condition is called craniosynostosis - premature fusion of the skull joints. Normally they fuse in your twenties, not before birth," Davis says.

"Braxton's specific type of craniosynostosis is called trigonocephaly, Latin for triangle-shaped head, and is due to fusion of the skull joint that runs from the top of the nose to the soft spot at the top of the head.

"It squashes the brain from side to side at the front, so as the brain is trying to grow it can't push your eye sockets apart. You end up with your eyes closer together, and can't develop a normal rounded forehead.

"The concern we have is it increases the pressure on the brain."

One in 2000 births have some form of craniosynostosis.

Braxton Watt's preoperative photos.
Braxton Watt's preoperative photos.
Surgeons make an incision over the top of the skull and peel the skin back to operate.
Surgeons make an incision over the top of the skull and peel the skin back to operate.

On April 18, the now 6-month-old Braxton underwent a cranial vault operation at Wellington Hospital to re-shape his skull.

"We carefully lift the front part of the skull and the top of the eye sockets off the brain. I take that off to a separate table and reshape it well away from the brain," Davis says.

While Davis is doing this a neurosurgeon will also operate on the skull to "fold it all out" and make much more room for the brain.

"It's quite a big hit for the parents. They understand something's wrong, they understand the need for the surgery but it's still an emotionally taxing time," Davis says.

During the successful two-hour operation Braxton received a transfusion for blood loss, and due to head swelling and bruising was unable to open his eyes for days afterwards.

"I didn't expect what was going to be happening with the healing part," McRae said.

"His eyes were closed for two days because of the bruising and his head was the size of a pumpkin.

"He was just super tired, couldn't open his eyes and wasn't himself. He could smell, touch and everything, he just couldn't see and I think that was very frustrating for him."

Alivia McRae with baby Braxton Watt, recover after the infant's surgery. Photo / Tim Cuff
Alivia McRae with baby Braxton Watt, recover after the infant's surgery. Photo / Tim Cuff
Nelson mother Alivia McRea and her son Braxton Watt prior to the operation.
Nelson mother Alivia McRea and her son Braxton Watt prior to the operation.

Alivia McRae traveled down to Wellington with her mother, Rachel McRae, and her 4-year-old sister Kyrah McRae.

The family stayed for one week at Ronald McDonald house before being discharged and flying back home to Nelson on Tuesday last week.

Alivia McRae says since getting his sight back Braxton has been taking recovery in his stride.

"The swelling's gone down heaps and he's back to his normal self, because when he had all the swelling and stuff he wasn't really himself and he was just sleeping most of the time," she says.

"When he opened his eyes he was just so happy about it.

"He's back to his old self, just cruising. He was such a chilled baby before and such a chilled child now."

And despite the trauma of her son's total cranial vault, barring any unforeseen complications, the procedure will have permanently solved his craniosynostosis.

Alivia McRae with Braxton Watt. Photo / Tim Cuff
Alivia McRae with Braxton Watt. Photo / Tim Cuff