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Buxton girl undergoes rare surgery

Hope Fuglesten, the 12-year-old Buxton, N.D., girl with spina bifida, on Thursday underwent the second half of a rare, life-saving two-part surgery to implant a titanium rib cage in her body.

The surgery took place at Arkansas Children's Hospital in Little Rock, Ark.

"She made it. We won the lottery again. We've been given more time with Hope, and that's what we've been hoping, praying, wishing and begging God for," her mother, Karen Fuglesten, wrote in Hope's Journal, posted on her Caring Bridge Web site early Thursday afternoon, shortly after the surgery ended.

Dr. Richard McCarthy performed the surgery, inserting a titanium rib cage -- Vertical Expandable Titanium Prosthetic Rib -- into her body.

During the procedure, the ribs are surgically cut and the device is implanted and attached to the ribs to allow chest cavity expansion.

The left half of the rib cage was inserted March 3. The second half of the surgery had been planned for March 20. But after Hope developed some fluid in her lungs, doctors decided to postpone the procedure.

Hope has a high level of spina bifida that has affected virtually every part of her body -- her breathing, her brain, her bowels. She's had almost 30 surgeries in her short life.

Hope's chest cavity has not grown as she has. Her lungs, heart and other organs have virtually no room to function properly. In short, she's suffocating.

"It feels kind of like someone is sitting on my chest," Hope said after the first surgery.

Doctors said that before the titanium rib cage was implanted, she had to take about 40 breaths for every 10 that a healthy person would take.

"It's like she's running a marathon and never stopping, even when she's asleep," one of her doctors said in March.

Doctors told the family Thursday that it could take about a year before Hope feels the positive effects of the past two surgeries, which have taken a toll on her lungs, Karen Fuglesten said.

Hope, who uses a wheelchair, just completed the fifth grade at Central Valley School, rural Buxton.

You can follow Hope's progress or add a message to the guestbook on her Caring Bridge Web site: