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Helmets help reshape babies' heads

By Charlie Patton The Florida Times-Union

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - Most people have never heard of plagiocephaly, a condition sometimes called flat head syndrome.

But Kristita Burkett, a media relations program manager for Hanger Inc., a national prosthetics company with Jacksonville offices, was quite familiar with the condition, which Hanger orthotists treat with custom-designed cranial helmets.

Last May, Burkett gave premature birth to twin sons. They were delivered at 35 weeks by C-section after Burkett developed pre-eclampsia, putting her at risk of losing too much blood during delivery. Kadyn, who weighed 4 pounds, 7.5 ounces, and Banyan, who weighed 4 pounds, 14 ounces, spent their first two weeks in the neonatal care unit at St. Vincent's Medical Center Southside. But soon both boys were growing normally, putting on weight. Both seemed healthy and happy.

Still Burkett knew that two factors which could result in plagiocephaly were a long stay in a neonatal intensive care unit, because of lying in one position for a long period of time, and being a twin, because of crowding in the womb. So she kept an eye on her sons. When Kadyn was 4 months old, Burkett said "his head started to look misshapen to me."

Clinicians at Hanger's San Marco clinic looked at Kadyn and identified him as suffering from moderate plagiocephaly, with a flat spot on the back of his skull and misaligned ears. Using 3D scanning technology, Carolyn Wery, a Hanger orthotist, designed a cranial helmet for Kadyn. The helmet was made at a fabrication design center in Arizona, then sent to Jacksonville where on Nov. 19 Wery fitted on Kadyn.

Burkett and her husband, Brian, like all parents of children fitted with cranial helmets, got to decorate the helmet. They opted for the slogan "I do my own stunts" and the figure of a skateboarder.

Wery said the sooner treatment with a cranial helmet begins, the better the results.

"If I can have them at 4 months old, that's great," she said.

In Kadyn's case, his helmet was fitted at 6 months.

Using the 3D scanner to create an outline for the cranial helmet is a wonderful technological advance, said Wery, who used to have to make a plaster cast of a baby's skull.

"I can't imagine taking a plaster cast of a baby," Burkett said during a recent visit with Wery.

"It's not pretty," Wery said. "It's messy and the babies hate it."

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