A thin, hard membrane was blocking a section of [newborn, 4-pound] Patrick's intestines -- the result of a rare birth defect called rectal atresia that occurs in one out of every 5,000 babies.
"We need to remove it," the doctor told the couple.
[Dr. Eric] Scaife described to Patrick's worried parents a long, technically difficult surgery. Patrick would be cut open through his abdomen and vertically along his tailbone. Once inside, Scaife would remove the membrane and then piece together two sections of intestines.
He had his concerns. It was a big operation on a little baby. The surgery might cause scarring, or it might injure nerves in Patrick's pelvis that could lead to incontinence.
If Patrick was Scaife's son, what would he do? Divricean asked the surgeon.
Scaife told her he'd think on it and give them an answer the next week.
"Hopefully, they'll come up with something that will save Patrick or will give us a better option at least," Divricean thought as she waited for the week to pass.
A week later, Scaife had an idea.
Instead of removing Patrick's blockage, he wanted to break through it -- with two powerful magnets.
In the hands of children, strong magnets have proven dangerous, even deadly. When swallowed, they've passed into the intestines, and their attraction to each other has forged a hole in tissues.
It occurred to Scaife that in the skilled hands of a surgeon, magnets might be a useful tool instead of a hazard. If he placed a magnet on either side of Patrick's blockage, their attraction might make a hole and destroy the membrane, allowing stool to pass.
Scaife's idea was untested and unproven -- but if it worked, Patrick wouldn't need surgery.
Read on for the whole story.
Image: Surgeon, via Shutterstock