Children's Hospital sheds light on condition, treatment of babies born into opioids

By Kristyn Hartman

     Cincinatti, Ohio (WCPO) -- Cincinnati Children's Hospital is giving hope to large numbers of children born into the opioid epidemic.

Children like 1-year-old Jayceon Hughes.

Jayceon is doing well now, but he had an uphill battle from day one, according to his father, Reggie Hughes.

Jayceon’s mother was addicted to heroin, Reggie said. That means Jayceon was exposed to opioids in utero.

“I'm used to a regular baby cry, but it was a bloody murder cry. You had to hold him,” said Reggie Hughes.

Jayceon was diagnosed with Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome (NAS).

“These babies go through a process of withdrawal,” said Dr. Jennifer McAllister of Cincinnati Children's. “They're jittery. They often have GI (gastrointestinal) upset and a unique, high-pitched cry.”

To give Jayceon the best possible chance after his first days, his father brought him to the Newborn Intensive Care Follow-up Clinic at Cincinnati Children's. It’s one of the few hospital clinics that follow hundreds of children born into the opioid epidemic.

The goal is for doctors to study these toddlers and apply what they learn to the larger population.

“Little is known about long-term follow-up of these babies,” said McAllister, the clinic director. “What happens when they're toddlers? What happens when they're school age? Our objective is to follow them at least through toddlerhood - hopefully longer.”

Following Jayceon led to a diagnosis of torticollis -- a twist of the neck. That causes a baby's head to favor one side or another.

Torticollis is often associated with a flattening of the head. If left untreated, it can cause longer-term issues.

“In our population of kids with NAS, 11 percent had torticollis,” said McAllister. “In previous published studies, the population incidence of torticollis is anywhere from half to 2 percent of the population"

So 11 percent is significant.

Armed with that knowledge, doctors refer those babies to physical therapy, McAllister said. That's what happened with Jayceon.

Doctors are also looking into things such as speech delays and school readiness, so checkups of patients like Jayceon continue.

Jayceon's dad has high hopes for his son and other children because of data collected in the clinic.

"I hope the next child that comes through they can see what they want to see faster," Reggie Hughes said.

The Cincinnati Children's study on torticollis was published Monday in The Journal of Pediatrics.

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