A risky journey and a happy ending

A mother looks lovingly at her newborn baby.
Mandie Cokley cradles her son Matthew, who underwent surgery for congenital diaphragmatic hernia at Shands Hospital for Children.

Mandie and Robert Cokley and their son Patrick piled into their Lincoln Navigator on April 15 and began the 2,400-mile drive from their home in Bakersfield, Calif. to Gainesville.

The couple was determined to arrive before the birth of their second son, due in just two weeks. Doctors in California had told them he had a congenital diaphragmatic hernia and little chance to live. They suggested Mandie abort the pregnancy. Instead, she took to the Internet, looking for answers. Other parents shared encouraging stories of children living with CDH. Many recommended David Kays, MD, a UF pediatric surgeon who specializes in treating the condition.

When Cokley found a Shands web page describing Kays’ high success rates, she said she knew what she needed to do.

“When it’s your child, you don’t have a choice,” she said. “You see 92 percent and you’re like ‘OK, that’s where we are going.’”

Kays advised her not to drive across the country so late in the pregnancy, but she was determined to make the trip. The family arrived in Gainesville on April 20. Matthew Cokley was born a week later.

Matthew responded well to the gentle ventilator support that is central to successful CDH treatment at UF. Kays operated  on him a few days later, moving his abdominal organs from his chest into their proper place, then closing the hernia.

After a one-month hospital stay, Matthew and his family returned to California. He has some reflux problems, but has not experienced any major complications. His mother is thrilled and said she wants other parents to know there is hope for children with CDH.

“I could never say enough or do enough to thank Dr. Kays for saving my son,” she said.