A healthy newborn baby has, on average, around 160 cm. of small bowel. When L was born, he had a grand total of 10 cm. of functional bowel. Ten. It wasn’t enough to absorb anything.
If my baby had been born a few decades earlier, he would have died within days of being born.
Instead, the incredible work of someone we’ve never met saved his life.
As a surgical resident in the 1960s, Dr. Stanley Dudrick was struck by the realization that many hospital deaths were caused, not by the primary diagnosis of the patient, but by malnutrition. If a patient were unable to eat, it didn’t matter how skilled their surgeon was or how successfully they were treated; without proper nutrition, there is no healing. And so he set to work to find a solution, and became a pioneer in the world of intravenous nutrition, developing both a compound that offered complete nutrition (TPN) as well as a method of delivering it into veins large enough to receive it. Today, more than 40,000 Americans rely on TPN due to short bowel syndrome, gastrointestinal cancer, Crohn’s disease, motility disorders, intestinal injury, and an array of other diseases and disorders that prevent or impair the ability to eat or absorb nutrition from food.
L began receiving TPN – total parenteral nutrition – almost immediately after birth. For the next three and a half years, those miraculous bags of chemicals were his primary, and at many times sole, source of nutrition.
Without TPN, I would have spent the summer of 2013 pumping gallons of breast milk while watching my baby slowly starve. Thanks to Dr. Dudrick, instead of starving, L began to grow. Today, he is six years old, enrolled in his school’s gifted program, and quite literally climbing mountains.
I had hoped I might someday be able to thank him for the incredible work he’s done – the work that saved my baby’s life – but Dr. Dudrick passed away this week at the age of 84. May you rest in peace, Dr. Dudrick. We can never thank you enough for the gift you’ve given our family and so many others like us.
To learn more about Dr. Dudrick’s amazing legacy, read this homage to his life and work or watch the video below.