'You would never know:' 6 years after surgery in the womb, Grafton boy is 'doing amazing things'
GRAFTON -- A 6-year-old boy is defying expectations, despite a rough start to life. A risky surgery saved him, and his body continues to heal itself in miraculous ways.
"It's amazing. It truly is amazing," said April Leffingwell.
Jason and April Leffingwell spent many nights praying they'd see their son Elijah healthy -- with everyone around him unaware of what he's missing.
"You would never even think that the, that he had any past medical history," said Jason Leffingwell.
When April Leffingwell was just 20 weeks pregnant, an ultrasound revealed thousands of tiny cysts wrapped around his lung.
"It was just crushing everything internally -- his heart, his lung, his esophagus," said April Leffingwell.
At Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, they met Dr. Scott Adzick. Five years ago, Dr. Adzick showed FOX6 video of the high-risk procedure. He didn't just operate on Elijah. He did it while Elijah was still partly inside his mother's womb.
"The fetus is about the size of my hand from head to toe. The mass in the chest is huge, and it's just totally crushing the heart and putting the baby into heart failure," said Dr. Adzick.
At one point, Elijah's heart stopped.
"They had to massage his little heart, which they told us was the size of a dime," said April Leffingwell.
Dr. Adrizk removed a tumor the size of an orange, and returned Elijah to his mother's belly. Two months later, he was born premature. After 10 days on life support, and more surgeries, Elijah came home to big sister Aliana. As Elijah settled in, FOX6 News got a look at his family's new routine.
"It was certainly busy, because the feeding tube was 16 hours on, eight hours off," said Jason Leffingwell.
At age 1, Elijah's feeding tube was removed, and he felt hunger for the first time. However, he didn't want to eat -- and Elijah was behind other babies in many ways.
"Pushing up, crawling, sitting, rolling. His strength was so weak because he was in the NICU for so long, so everything he was behind on everything," said April Leffingwell.
Everything came -- in its own time.
"You would never know. He's a smiley, happy 6-year-old boy in kindergarten, doing amazing things," said April Leffingwell.
His body continues to heal itself, despite the fact that Elijah only has one full lung. An X-ray reveals that lung has become hyper-inflated, to help make up for what's missing.
"His right lung has completely compensated for everything that he needs when it comes to breathing," said Jason Leffingwell.
To keep his one lung clear, Elijah wears a vibrating vest 20 minutes a day.
"What it does is pulsate his chest, which helps loosen up any mucus that's stuck in the lung," said April Leffingwell.
Ask Elijah about his vest and you'll get a short answer. He doesn't like wearing it because "it's boring." After all, he's 6 years old. He'd rather play with his sister than talk about surgeries he doesn't understand.
Elijah Leffingwell visits Children's Hospital of Philadelphia every two years. In the meantime, he plays T-ball, swims and climbs rocks. His parents hope his story can serve as an inspiration for families with newborns in the NICU.