Meet Abdallah: St. Mary’s Feeding Program Superstar
At less than two and half feet tall, with dark brown hair and bright eyes that peek out playfully from his stroller, sixteen-month-old Abdallah looks and behaves like a typical toddler his age. He is energetic, curious and like other little ones in his generation, he is tech-savvy, and enjoys playing with a cellphone or an iPad. His mother affectionately calls him ‘Aboodie’ and when he is around strangers he clings tightly to her.
However, unlike other toddlers his age, Abdallah was born with a serious medical condition that threatens his development and growth. He has hyperinsulinism, a rare disorder that causes his pancreas to produce too much insulin. This excess insulin causes low blood sugar (hypoglycemia). If severe enough and prolonged, low blood sugar can deprive the brain of essential fuels causing cell damage, which may lead to seizures, learning disabilities, blindness or even death.
When he was an infant, he had a gastrostomy tube (G-tube) inserted to help his feeding. The tube would be the only way he received his nutrients. As he grew older, his family was determined to find a way to help him improve his eating.
“If only Aboodie would open his mouth and take some food from a spoon, that would make my wishes come true,” his mother shared.
Her wish was answered when in February 2016 he was accepted into the renowned St. Mary’s Center for Pediatric Feeding Disorders. The intense program runs for up to eight weeks with multiple daily treatment sessions in which both child and caregiver receive instruction. It was a daunting new experience for Abdallah and his mother to be immersed into such a rigorous program. It was also a first for the Center, as Abdallah was the first child admitted to the program with hyperinsulinism.
His mother explained that in the beginning it was difficult to adjust. As part of the protocol, her son was separated from her during the early stages of the sessions, and would cry, refuse the foods offered, and sometimes vomit. His feeding therapists shared that even the sight of an empty spoon coming towards his mouth would bring on a fresh bout of tears.
Eventually, Abdallah became more trusting of the staff, and he tolerated exercises that strengthened his oral motor skills. With the help of the dedicated feeding program staff, he gradually started accepting smoothly pureed foods and learned how to drink from a straw and a squirt bottle. He is now willing to try a variety of pureed foods, and the volume of his feeds has improved. At home, his mother feeds him by mouth, and he now joins in on family meals.
Abdallah has come a long way in his therapy and has graduated from the Feeding Program having met his admission goals. For a child who had never taken food by mouth, his progress has been life-changing. He continues to receive feeding services on an outpatient basis and is working hard to meet new feeding milestones like chewing. These days, as his mom pushes his stroller through the halls of St. Mary’s, he can be seen smiling or laughing, waving to all the therapists, he is no longer scared to get into a highchair to eat, and is making new progress each day. For the Feeding Program team Abdallah has earned the title of Feeding Program Superstar.