being prepared for anything is part of the parenting game, and no one knows this better than 46-year-old Valeka Riegel who, during her prenatal ultrasound, found out that her unborn son had a rather unusual condition.
Zakary Riegel was born with a rare defect covering the majority of his face with a sac. Also known as encephalocele, this sac is where the brain tissue collects when a baby’s skull doesn’t close all the way during development in the womb. According to statistics from the CDC, one in 12,200 babies is born with some form of encephalocele each year.
So even though Zakary was born healthy in all other aspects when Valeka first saw him, she told Today, she couldn’t help but cry:
“Only a large protrusion and tiny little lips – no eyes, no nose, no eyelashes.”
Not that these features didn’t exist, but the baseball-sized sac was hiding it all from sight.
After four months in the NICU with the sling, Zakary was old enough to undergo the 9-hour surgery to remove the growth and repair the gap in the skull. It is hard to imagine just how Valeka was able to keep a positive outlook through all of this.
Thankfully, the surgery was successful and when Valeka first saw Zakary without the sac:
“I just cried because I didn’t know he had such beautiful long eyelashes and big brown eyes. They were perfect on both sides.”
He was so unrecognizable but in the best way possible. A smiling child who somehow knew that what he had lived through was extraordinary!
But even a good change is still a change and according to Valeka it took getting used to for both mom and baby:
“I had come to fall in love with this little boy with this big ball on his face. He always played with it. the first couple of days, he kept swatting at his face, like ‘Wait a second, I’m not seeing it; I’m not feeling it.”
Here is a video of Zakary’s remarkable and heartwarming transformation!
Zakary Riegel arrived into the world with a rare birth defect that left much of his face covered by a sac. He's thriving after a marathon surgery to repair the condition.
Posted by Today Show on Thursday, January 4, 2018