Birthday cake is meant for that one special day a mama will never forget, but one little boy in Missouri certainly deserves the right to birthday cake twice a year—and mama Joni Reinkemeyer says she won't hesitate to grant those wishes.
"People have asked if he will have two birthdays," she tells The Sun of her son, Jackson, now (officially) 4 months old. "Seeing that he was born twice, I think we can allow him two cakes."
Although the payoff sounds sweet enough for little Jackson, the circumstances that led to the two birthdays were harrowing—and ultimately miraculous: During her 19-week anatomy scan, Reinkemeyer explains doctors determined that the baby had spina bifida, a condition where a gap forms in the fetus's spine during development.
After consulting with medical professionals at the Barnes-Jewish Hospital in St. Louis, Missouri, Reinkemeyer and her boyfriend, Chris Skain, agreed to a unique procedure where doctors would "deliver" the baby, perform an operation to close the gap and then return him to Reinkemeyer's womb for the rest of the gestation period.
"Consideration for open-fetal surgery involves a detailed evaluation of both the baby and the mother to be sure that they meet the criteria for surgery and it is the right procedure for them," says Dr. Michael Bebbington, a maternal-fetal medicine specialist, at Barnes-Jewish Hospital. "The procedure that Jackson had has probably been done a few hundred times worldwide."
Despite the risks of prematurity or death, Reinkemeyer and Skein decided it was the best hope for their son. "After carefully thinking, Chris and I decided we had to take a chance," she recalls. "If it could help our baby live an easier life, we wanted to do it."
The operation was scheduled for the end of the second trimester, when doctors hoped baby Jackson would be big enough to survive if he wasn't able to return to Reinkemeyer's womb.
"Because it had never been done before, they had duplicates of each role including two anesthesiologists for me and Jackson, two neurosurgeons and a whole NICU team. My little boy weighed just 1 lb at the time," Reinkemeyer tells The Sun. "Doctors drained the amniotic fluid from his spine, and then stitched up the hole."
As delicate as the situation was, it went off seamlessly and baby Jackson continued to grow for another 10 weeks while Reinkemeyer stayed on bed rest nearby the hospital. He was then delivered for a second time in early 2018—small, but strong and healed from the gap in his spine.
"I was in love from the moment I saw him. When I first heard his scary diagnosis, I wish I had known how wonderful he would be—it would have taken all my fears away," Reinkemeyer says. "Jackson is doing so well now, despite having been through so much in his little life."