SMA Syndrome, Hero
At first, Aaron Recendez’s illness didn’t cause much concern. It was February— cold and flu season; the discomfort he felt in his abdomen seemed like the work of a common bug. So the 11th-grader stayed home from school the next day. But instead of improving, his health deteriorated. “I couldn’t stand up straight,” Aaron says. “I didn’t know what this was, and I was pretty scared.”
That was the beginning of a month-long search to find the source of Aaron’s mysterious condition, which included a dangerous misdiagnosis at a hospital that primarily treats adults, where the Recendezes first sought help. Then, on the advice of their pediatrician, Aaron and his parents went to Miller Children’s Hospital Long Beach— a licensed children’s hospital specializing solely in care for kids—seeking an answer for the constant symptoms that plagued him. “I knew we were in the right place when the doctors at Miller Children’s Hospital Long Beach told us they knew how to help my son and would work with us to make him healthy again,” his mother Lupe says.
Several discussions with Aaron and Lupe regarding the symptoms Aaron had been experiencing helped the experts at Miller Children’s Hospital Long Beach diagnose Aaron’s condition within one week. They discovered that Aaron’s illness was the result of superior mesenteric artery (SMA) syndrome, a rare and potentially deadly disorder. A portion of the duodenum—the first part of the small intestine—is flanked by the superior mesenteric artery and the abdominal aorta. When the angle between these vessels is too tight, the duodenum is compressed, preventing its normal functioning. The condition can occur naturally because of variations in anatomy, or it can be caused by injury, surgery or other factors.
“We often see symptoms like Aaron’s in patients with SMA syndrome,” says pediatric gastroenterologist Barry Steinmetz, M.D., medical director of Miller Children’s outpatient specialty centers. “The condition is challenging to diagnose, since its symptoms are similar to other diseases.” Treatment ranges from measures to healthfully increase the weight of the patient, which can release the compression of the duodenum, to surgery to accomplish the same effect. In Aaron’s case, Dr. Steinmetz performed a minimally invasive, endoscopic procedure that corrected his problem.
Miller Children’s Hospital Long Beach is uniquely staffed and equipped to provide care for infants through teenagers. “Many illnesses that afflict children are rare in adults, or they affect young people in different ways, which is why it’s so important to seek care at a hospital just for kids,” says Dr. Steinmetz. The health care team practices in an environment built just for children that makes patient care safer, more comfortable and accurate. Child Life specialists, who are always on hand, use play therapy to explain procedures to young patients in terms children can understand, as well as to relax them. The Miller Children’s Hospital Long Beach staff is keenly aware of the family dynamics unique to childhood illnesses and how those factors affect parents and siblings. As a result, the hospital places a special emphasis on family-centered care, while considering the impact of treatment decisions on the entire family.
Exactly a month after his first visit to an emergency room, Aaron was released from Miller Children’s Hospital Long Beach. In a few weeks, he was able to return to school. Today, he’s a high school senior looking forward to a career in animation. He and his family credit the outstanding care he received at Miller Children’s Hospital for giving him his life back. “I’m really grateful to everyone there who had a part in helping Aaron—emotionally, physically, mentally,” Lupe says. “I don’t know what I would have done for him if it had not been for the people who helped him there.”