Fresno, Calif. — Kyrie Carter’s father dreams of his “little man” dribbling a basketball effortlessly someday.
“He’s going to play every sport!” Harold Carter proclaims with excitement of his young son’s future.
At 16 months old, Kyrie already has a good handle of a basketball, his family says — despite being born with five thumbs.
The extra thumbs haven’t been extra helpful, however, says Valley Children’s Hospital plastic surgeon Dr. Mimi Chao.
“Some families will ask, ‘Are two thumbs better than one? Can it put a wicked spin on a baseball?’ — those types of functional questions. But the answer is really no, because the two thumbs actually interfere with each others’ function,” Chao explains to Kyrie’s family before a hand reconstruction surgery for the infant at Valley Children’s on Feb. 16.
Chao took the best parts of two thumbs on Kyrie’s right hand and merged them into one. Previously, the Fresno boy had two extra thumbs on his left hand removed during an August surgery.
The procedures are among a long list of plastic surgeries performed at the Madera County hospital every year. The “plastic” in plastic surgery doesn’t refer to the material, but rather the Greek word “plastico,” which means “to mold or shape,” Chao explains.
Pediatric plastic surgery isn’t just done for cosmetic reasons, it’s helping children live more functional lives. The aim of Kyrie’s thumb surgery wasn’t just to give him one thumb, it was to give him a stable one — a thumb that will help him grip successfully.
Valley Children’s has a team of four plastic surgeons who primarily address congenital anomalies (malformations that occur in the womb) or injuries, such as fractures and dog bites, to the hands, skull and face.
Plastic surgery patients at the hospital have increased by more than 1,500 over the past couple years – from 3,082 patients in 2014 to 4,603 in 2016.
Many issues can now be detected while a baby is still in the womb, which allows families to start meeting with plastic surgeons even before a baby is born.
Valley Children’s is a top hospital for these types of surgeries. It’s the only one in the Central Valley south of Sacramento and north of Los Angeles that is accredited by the American Cleft Palate-Craniofacial Association.
Chao says plastic surgeries also help children “achieve a normal appearance and integrate socially and not suffer childhood teasing and bullying.” Four of Kyrie’s siblings have experienced that bullying. They also were born with extra fingers and never had surgery. Harold Carter didn’t want Kyrie to experience the same bullying. Of the five, Carter is the father only of Kyrie. The other four live in Las Vegas with their mother.
One in 2,000 to 3,000 babies are born with additional fingers, Chao says, and it’s even rarer to see multiple children in one family with the condition.
“This is supposed to be a rare embryonic developmental condition, but we see a lot of this here at the hospital,” Chao says.
Chao says doctors still have “a long way to go” in understanding what may cause the condition, and how to prevent it.
“With most congenital differences, we think there’s both an environmental factor and some genetic predisposition, and it’s usually thought to be a combination of the two that results in this,” Chao says.
During Kyrie’s surgery last month, the outside thumb on his right hand was preserved because it had the better joint connecting it to the hand. Some ligaments, tendons and skin were taken from the inside thumb and weaved into the other thumb, which also was straightened.
Kyrie’s two right thumbs were really one split thumb. In the womb, a baby’s hand begins in the shape of a mitten or paddle, Chao explains, and tissue dies back to create individual fingers. If the tissue doesn’t die back enough, a child is born with webbed fingers. If tissue dies where it’s not supposed to, the finger splits – resulting in what appears to be two or more fingers.
After the surgery, his hands were set in casts. After his hands heal and the casts are removed, he will receive physical therapy and routine check-ups. Depending on how his hands grow, doctors may later decide he needs more surgery.